With Covid's global emergency ending, DAP's Dr Boo calls for reform of public healthcare and social responsibility
JOHOR BARU, May 7 — Former Johor state assemblyman Dr Boo Cheng Hau has called for the improvement towards public healthcare and civic awareness, following a protracted global emergency from the Covid-19 pandemic that was only lifted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday.
The popular DAP politician who is also a medical doctor, said this upgrade is needed in order to future-proof the country against other challenges even as Malaysians can now return almost as close to normalcy with the coronavirus now endemic.
“Nonetheless, Malaysia is still lagging behind on aspects of public health and social responsibility compared to better-developed Asian counties like Japan and South Korea.
“With that, we have to upgrade our education and health systems to a more advanced stage to face any future public health and socioeconomic challenges,” he told Malay Mail in an interview yesterday about his medical opinion.
Dr Boo particularly cautioned that Covid-19’s new Arcturus strain and other newer variants might render the first-generation vaccine ineffective or less effective.
He urged the Ministry of Health (MoH) to procure the latest second-generation vaccines, or preferably bivalent or multiple-valent vaccines to offer protection for a wide range of virus strains — something that the ministry has continued to dither on.
Back in March, MoH said discussions on Malaysia’s procurement of the bivalent Covid-19 vaccine are currently ongoing between the government and pharmaceutical company Pfizer-BioNTech. No other updates have come since.
File photo of Health Minister Dr. Zaliha Mustafa delivering her speech during the Health White Paper town hall session at UKM Specialist Children's Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, 18 April 2023. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
This comes as last week, national news agency Bernama reported Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa as saying that 12 cases of Covid-19 XBB.1.16 subvariant, also known as the Arcturus variant, have been reported in Malaysia. All patients were suffering from mild symptoms and were in stable conditions, she reportedly said.
During the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, Dr Boo shared his insights and advice on the Covid-19 virus on his Facebook, using layman’s terms based on his experience of being a doctor.
However, the 58-year-old DAP politician was better known as a strong advocate of the importance of being vaccinated as a frontline measure during the pandemic.
In late 2020, Dr Boo contracted the Covid-19 virus where he managed to detail his quarantine and recovery process that had a following on his Facebook.
What next for Malaysians?
On the current situation where the Covid-19 pandemic is over, Dr Boo reminded Malaysians that they should still expect the situation to be endemic.
He explained that there might still be incidental localised Covid-19 epidemics of a lesser degree over time.
“However, the situation will be more manageable this time round, with the help of vaccines that provide a high degree of protection.
“Basically it is important to update to the latest vaccine version as the virus would usually mutate rapidly,” he said, adding that the previous vaccines may not be able to offer much protection over the newer mutated strains.
File photo of people wearing face masks amid the emergence of new Covid-19 variants and sub-variants in Bukit Bintang January 4, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Overall, the former Johor DAP chief said Malaysians can basically live normally again, with simple changes to their health and hygiene.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic shifted into the endemic stage and with the vast majority of the population vaccinated, most deaths are usually related to comorbidities such as hypertension, dyslipidaemia, diabetes mellitus, and other chronic diseases.
“That means that the best prevention is still to practise a healthier lifestyle and take care of hygiene,” said the former two-term Skudai assemblyman.
Dr Boo gave an example of the country’s present situation where the positive Covid-19 test rate increased to 15.5 per cent in the last two weeks, coupled with a slight hike in hospitalisation, ventilated and intensive care unit (ICU) cases.
He noted that most mortality was associated with age and comorbidity.
“There is also a small spike due to the post-festive Hari Raya Aidilfitri period, which was expected.
“Despite that, the current situation is much more manageable now than during the pandemic period and that is attributed to a successful vaccination programme,” said Dr Boo.
Last month, MoH data indicated a surge in Covid-19 infections ahead of Aidilfitri festivities with the number of cases increasing by 87.5 per cent in the last 14 days up to April 8, while the number of hospital admissions recorded an increase of 30.5 per cent.
Yesterday, Dr Zaliha said the ministry was still discussing the latest protective measures that will be implemented after the WHO declaration. For the time being, she said the Health Ministry would continue with Covid-19 control measures or standard operating procedures (SOP) until it can be decided whether or not to follow WHO’s recommendations.
WHO announced on Friday that the global coronavirus pandemic is no longer an international health emergency.
The announcement, however, has no concrete impact because each country decides for itself which protective measures it will impose.