Nation needs clear directives on mass gathering

Inconsistency of the advice given by authorities on public events is a concern, says Galen’s Azrul

by ASILA JALIL/ pic by AFP

THE government should provide a clearer directive to the public on mass gatherings to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in the country, especially as it has been announced as a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had urged the public to postpone mass gathering including religious activities.

He urged individuals who carry symptoms of infection to the respiratory tract to distance themselves at least 1m away from other individuals.

According to him, guidelines on gatherings at mosques and religious events will be issued and working papers on how to conduct those events are being prepared by the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD).

However, Religious Affairs Minister in the PMD Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri said the situation of the virus in the country is under control and Friday prayers can still be held with some changes to be made including shortening the sermon. He added that those who do show symptoms of the virus do not need to attend the prayers.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said the inconsistency of the advice given by the authorities on public events is a concern.

He said several countries have seen extensive spread of the virus which has also occurred through religious events, besides other mass gatherings.

“All mosques, churches, temples and other religious groups should immediately suspend their public congregations in the interest of public health,” he told The Malaysian Reserve yesterday.

Azrul said by halting large-scale religious congregations, it will help mitigate the spread of Covid-19 as it will reduce the number of cases in the country. This allows healthcare services to respond to and treat those affected by the virus without being overwhelmed by new cases.

“We have finite resources and people. Introducing mitigating measures such as social distancing, closing schools and self quarantine will help keep people apart and make transmission harder. This will slow the spread.

“We need to support and put into place measures which help prevent a surge of Covid-19, such as what is occurring in Italy to ensure that anyone who needs care will find it and get it at our healthcare services,” he added.

WHO has declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on Wednesday due to its widespread into at least 114 countries and its fatality rate which has now exceeded 4,000 people globally.

During a briefing in Geneva, WHO DG Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (picture) was reported as saying that it is the “first pandemic caused by the coronavirus”.

The last pandemic reported in the world was the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009.

The virus which started out as an outbreak in Wuhan, China, raised concerns due to the rate it spreads across the province.

It is now declared as a pandemic, which refers to the rate a virus spreads in a short span of time and also affects people globally.

Meanwhile, endemic refers to a disease that is present in a certain area and is only affecting a particular group of people at a low rate, while an epidemic translates to a sudden increase in the number of cases and spreads to a larger geographic area.

Following the pandemic declaration, Catholic churches in the peninsula has suspended all weekend and weekday public masses from March 14 until March 29, 2020.

In a statement yesterday, Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Reverend Julian Leow, Penang Bishop Reverend Sebastian Francis and Melaka- Johor Bishop Reverend Bernard Paul said the exemption is a temporary measure due to the current situation.

“We will continue to monitor and review the situation to determine if the above period of suspension needs to be extended beyond March 29, 2020,” they said in the statement.

Weddings or funerals can still be conducted, but privately with guests limited to immediate family members and close friends.

They added that churches, chapels or prayer rooms will remain open for private and personal prayer.