the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)

Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Malaysia welcomes the declaration and has been on high alert strengthening the surveillance in all of our international entry points even before the PHEIC was announced. This among others include thermal scanner screening, referrals from the Immigration Department and Self Declaration. There are currently 54 thermal scanners placed at 35 international entry points with high traveler load. 25 more scanners are expected to arrive soon and will be located at high priority areas.

We initiated our preparedness and response plans in containing the spread of 2019-nCoV even before the first few cases were detected in the country. More importantly, we have taken the necessary steps way before WHO declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak as a PHEIC. Among the encouraging measures we have taken over and above the WHO recommendation is to perform throat swabs to detect the virus on asymptomatic individuals who have had close contacts with positive cases. This sampling is done through a laborious process called “contact tracing”. I would like to thank the hardworking health staff on the ground who have been tireless in seeking out these “close contact” individuals.

Malaysia is leading the ASEAN Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) network, actively engaging with ASEAN Member States on situation updates and data sharing which among others is to promote detection response and communication to prevent the spread of the virus. Current national risk communication actions to disseminate preventive and control measures, including combating false news and information circulated in the social media, have also benefited from the preparedness and capacity building programmes of the ASEAN Risk Assessment and Risk Communication Centre hosted by Malaysia.

As of now, there is neither a travel ban nor restriction of flights from China recommended by WHO. It was reported that WHO, when declaring the PHEIC, had said that there was “no reason” for any of the international travel or trade restrictions announced in recent days by several countries, such as flight suspensions, border closures and quarantine for apparently healthy travellers. Countries must inform WHO about travel measures taken, as required by the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005). Countries are cautioned against actions that promote stigma or discrimination, in line with the principles of Article 3 of the IHR.

Despite the lockdown currently in place for many cities in China and flight cancellations by Air Asia and Malindo Air from/to Wuhan, no decision has been made yet to ban all flights from China to Malaysia. Any decision would need to be a government policy that is well-informed, justified and based on available information. Nonetheless, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and timely based on the continuous evaluation of the circumstances in the country and region. However, if the situation compels us to do so, we will look into introducing additional measures in the future.

The basic principles to reduce the general risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections include the following:

• Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
• Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
• Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
• People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain Social distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands) and wear a face mask
• Within healthcare facilities, enhance standard infection prevention and control practices in hospitals, especially in emergency departments.

The Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the IHR regarding the outbreak believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place robust measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk.

It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce the spread of the infection.

I quote the DG of WHO;
“This is the time for Facts, not Fear;
This is the time for Science, not Rumours;
This is the time for Solidarity, not Stigma.”