[EXPERT REACTION] Possible ‘third wave’ of COVID-19 in Malaysia?

SMC Malaysia
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah during a press conference. Photo credit: Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia / Facebook

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has recently warned about the third wave of COVID-19 if Malaysians fail to adhere to social distancing guidelines. We asked experts this question: 

“What is the third wave of COVID-19 expected to look like? How can we prevent it from happening?”  


Dr Tan Cheng Siang, Virologist & Head of Centre for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak, said: 

“Severe COVID-19 seems to be associated with other comorbidities such as old-age, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, obesities etc. Malaysia has a good population of people with such risk factors and the third wave may see a significant decline in population.  

We need to slow down the transmission rate by continuing to respect the Movement Control Order (MCO), practice social distancing and maintain good personal and environmental hygiene.”  

Dr Cindy Teh, Microbiologist & Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, said:

“There might be a third wave of COVID-19 due to the previous mass gathering and the failure in tracking down and testing the suspected cases in time. Although the Ministry of Health (MOH) had traced the majority of the people who attended the tabligh gathering at Mosque in Sri Petaling after 3 weeks of hard work, we cannot deny that we might have missed the golden hour to improve the clinical outcome of the infected person and to contain the spread. 

As a result, high number of deaths are associated with this cluster due to delayed diagnostics and treatment. Most importantly, we have not identified all the infected persons and traced their contacts. Within the 3 weeks, these infected people could have spread their disease direct or indirectly to thousands of people. 

Furthermore, there is an increase of infected patients whose source of infection has yet to be traced. Could it be the consequences of the floating chariot festival in Teluk Bahang, Penang, or the balik kampung exodus recently? Further investigation is crucial to identify the source of infection. 

Finally, an increase of infection among those at the front line has been observed and we are facing the lack of manpower and resources (eg: personal protective equipment and diagnostics kits…etc). When a person continues to work for countless hours from extreme exertion, his chance of making an error increases. On the other hand, the hospitals would collapse because there’s not enough beds and ventilators.

The important thing now is to break the chain of transmission. The movement control order is indeed the most effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19 now. By limiting the movement of people, we can prevent the sick person from spreading the virus to others at the workplace, places of worship, eateries, schools, and during social gathering events. Therefore, all Malaysian have to understand their role in preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Practicing good hygiene and social distancing could stop the spread effectively.”

Disclaimer: Science Media Centre Malaysia has collected these comments to provide journalists with a range of expert perspectives on the subject. The views expressed here are personal opinions of the experts. They do not in any way reflect the views of the Science Media Centre or any other organization unless specifically stated. 
Bionotes of experts

Dr Cindy Teh is a senior lecturer from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya. She is a microbiologist and trained in biorisk management. She has been assisting Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) infection control department to trace the transmission of infectious diseases since 2013. Dr. Cindy has been publishing her research findings in internationally renowned journals and served as reviewer for the journals. She has been awarded research grants and awards from national and international bodies for her research in infectious diseases. 

Dr Tan Cheng Siang is the Head of Centre for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak. A trained virologist, he has more than 20 years experience in handling infectious viruses, virus isolation and identification, phylogeny, molecular epidemiology, recombinant protein expression and diagnostic tool development. He is also a certified biosafety officer and holds four Certified Professional credentials from the International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA). 

**View all previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/

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