Six questions about: The Wuhan coronavirus situation in Malaysia (VIDEO)

Syed Jaymal Zahiid
Tourists are seen wearing masks to protect themselves against the new coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur January 26, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 — A new strain of virus believed to have originated from the city of Wuhan in central China has claimed 56 lives and infected thousands globally, alarming governments worldwide as health authorities warned of a potential pandemic.

So far, there have been four reported case of people tested positive for the virus in Malaysia, all of the Chinese nationals.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) said yesterday that it is constantly monitoring the situation and will keep informing the public of the latest updates from time to time.

It has urged the public to only obtain verified information from authorities and to refrain from spearing fake information that would stir public anxiety.

Here’s what we know about the situation so far:

What is the Wuhan coronavirus?

A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in the nose, sinuses, or upper throat. There are several types of coronaviruses but not all are dangerous. 

Other dangerous strains had included the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, with a top Chinese health official claiming that it is “not as powerful as SARS”.

Health authorities said the coronavirus that emerged out of Wuhan was something not seen before, which means researchers know little about the pathogen, dubbed the Wuhan virus or 2019-nCoV in short, and how dangerous it is. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said many of the new virus’ symptoms resemble pneumonia such as fever, difficulty in breathing and coughing. To date, most of the fatalities have been in elderly patients, many with pre-existing conditions. 

How the virus is transmitted also remains unclear. Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said there is evidence of human-to-human transmission, especially among close contacts. 

 

 

When was the first positive cases detected here?

In late December last year, Chinese authorities started alerting the WHO of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China, with an unknown cause, before finally going public about them in early January.

The first known patient to die from the virus was identified in Wuhan on January 10.

By January 23, the MoH released its first press statement following WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee meeting on January 22 stating the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre has started monitoring the situation.

The ministry first announced that a patient was admitted to an isolation ward in a Sabah hospital on January 22, which was later tested to be negative.

By January 24, the MoH announced the first positive cases in Malaysia involving three patients, and another one positive case was announced the day after.

A Malaysian health quarantine officer waits for passengers at a thermal screening point at the international arrival terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang January 21, 2020. — Reuters pic

Who were those suspected as positive cases?

The first three positive cases in Malaysia were three Chinese nationals who were part of eight people who came into direct contact with the first positive case reported in Singapore. 

They were a 65-year-old woman and two boys aged two and 11. Among the five who tested negative, one had stayed to take care of the children, while the other four had returned home to China.

The fourth positive case is a 40-year-old male Chinese national. 17 people with close contact with him have also been quarantined. 

The fourth case was among the 23 patients under investigation in Malaysia as at yesterday, which involved 14 Malaysians, one Jordan national, and the rest had come from China.

Out of the 23, 18 of them had tested negative while four more (two Malaysians and two Chinese) are still under observation.

A masked vendor sells fish and turtles at a market in Wuhan where the coronavirus was discovered January 24 2020. — AFP pic

Where did the positive cases come from?

Experts traced the source of the first cases in Wuhan from a wholesale seafood market in the town, where vendors legally sold live animals from stalls in close quarters with hundreds of others.

The first three positive cases in Malaysia came into direct contact with a patient identified in Singapore. The family were travelling from Guangzhou, China to Singapore.

They were then traced in Johor Baru, before being brought to and quarantined in the Sungai Buloh Hospital.

The fourth positive case came from Wuhan, and arrived in Johor Baru by bus from Singapore. He came in a group of 17 Chinese tourists in total, which also included his wife and child.

He was then quarantined in Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Baru.

The case has so far also been detected in Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, France, and the United States.

Why has Malaysia not declared any emergency yet?

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the situation is still not at a critical point to stop Chinese tourists from entering the country.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail also assured the public that Malaysia has the capacity to deal with the coronavirus situation after having successfully dealt with SARS, Ebola virus and Nipah virus in the past.

The WHO itself has still kept the global risk assesment of the situation as “moderate”, even as it raised the status to “very high” in China.

 

 

MoH said the relevant authorities have ramped up border security and are screening all inbound passengers from China. Wisma Putra has issued travel alerts urging Malaysians to defer all non-essential travel to China's Wuhan and other areas that could be affected.

The ministry has yet to detect local transmission of the Wuhan virus. 

A family wears face masks at the arrival hall of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport January 24, 2020. — Bernama pic

How can Malaysians protect themselves?

To date, there are no approved vaccines or drugs to treat the virus, although the Wall Street Journal reported that researchers are looking into claims that some antiviral drugs in the market are effective against the pathogen.

But there are precautionary measures that the public can take to avoid infection. The WHO recommends frequently washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub and covering the mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing and sneezing.

It also advised against close contact with people who have a fever and cough and avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals at markets, or consume undercooked animal meat.

Malaysians travelling to China and returning to Malaysia have also been advised to avoid wet markets or animal farms, maintain good hygiene, and wear a face mask. Those who develop fever, cough or difficulty in breathing should seek immediate medical care.

 

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