Weekly Highlights

We need more transparency from MOH

The Ministry of Health must demonstrate professionalism in presenting COVID-19 data findings and projections and not attempt to cover up mistakes with made-up arguments and excuses

Yesterday, the Director-General (DG) of Health Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah asserted that if all conditions remain the same as Labuan, and assuming an average vaccine efficacy of 80 percent, the number of cases is expected to drop below 1,000 a day by October.

The Ministry of Health should not now be making promises that it is not able to keep.  When the MCO 3.0 was launch on the 23 May 2021, Malaysians were told that the number of cases will be reduced if Malaysians sacrificed their livelihood by staying at home. 

The cases did not drop, and the Government announced a “Full MCO” (FMCO) on the 1 June for an initial two weeks.  The number of positive cases remained sticky and the FMCO was extended for an additional 2 weeks. 

It obviously didn’t work because a further 2 weeks of “Enforced MCO” was then imposed in Klang Valley from 3 July 2021.  And for the past 3 days during this MCO period, Malaysia consistently set new record of positive cases with 13,215 cases recorded yesterday (15 July).

The calamitous scenario clearly proved that the Health Ministry failed to carry out their duties to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 infection, even as the people suffered in silence, losing income and livelihood hoping to return to some form of normalcy as quickly as possible.

What’s more, two days ago, the Health DG provided the flimsiest of excuses to defend his Ministry’s performance.  He said at a press conference for selected media,

“We imposed a strict movement control order on June 1. Within 10 days we flattened the curve from 9,020 cases to 5,000 and 4,000 cases.  But now the cases have risen again. One of the factors for this rise is due to Covid-19 variants. The dominant variant now is the Delta variant… the Delta variant spreads very quickly.”

I find it extremely disconcerting that the most senior health officer in the country is telling half-truths and manipulating numbers.” -Tony Pua

First of all, the Health DG was selective and manipulative with his statistics. When the FMCO was imposed on June 1, the number of cases recorded for June 1 was 7,105.  The number for May 31 was 6,824.  The average number of cases for the week preceding June 1 was 7,680. 

It was not 9,020.  There were indeed 9,020 cases recorded on May 29, but just that one day – not June 1, and not reflective of the overall average number of cases in the prior week.

Then the Health DG claimed that the number of cases dropped to 5,000 and 4,000 cases “within 10 days”.  Except they never did!  For the next 10 days, the number of cases fluctuated between a high of 8,209 and a low of 5,271.  And it must be noted that the low figure of 5,271 was reported on a Monday for Sunday tests, which are typically the lowest of the week.

So how did the Health DG conjure up his magical success of reducing the number of cases from 9,020 cases to 4,000 cases in 10 days after FMCO?

Secondly, even if accurate, it was irresponsible for the Health DG to cite these numbers because he has failed to take into consideration the impact of the reduced testing by the Ministry of Health on the lower number of reported cases.

In the week prior to FMCO  (23-29 May), the country carried out 109,601 tests daily on average.  However, but the week 6-12 June, the number of average daily tests carried out dropped by 17.9% to only 89,985. The positivity rate between the two weeks showed only a marginal drop from 6.96% to 6.61%.  This means that the overwhelming bulk of the reduced positive cases was a direct result of reduced testing, and not a result of reduced infection!

In fact, the Health DG must explain why did the Health Ministry reduce the number of tests for 5 consecutive weeks throughout the MCO and FMCO period despite high, and subsequently rising positivity rates?  This is shown in the chart above. The cynical might even deduce that it was a disingenuous attempt to report lower case numbers by clearly testing less.

Does the Health DG think that he can get away with half-truths and manipulated statistics to defend his Ministry’s performance because Malaysians are gullible and cannot count?

Malaysians can see clearly now that the Health Ministry did not take testing seriously. It also was not concerned with the fact that the positivity rate was well above the World Health Organisation (WHO) benchmark of 5%. This is arguably the main cause of the explosive rise community infections to repeatedly break records in the past few days. Worse, the Health DG tried to cite the Delta (and other) variants as the cause of the rise in the number of cases in recent weeks. However, is that mere speculation? That is because the current published variant incidence statistics by the Ministry itself does not show that these variants, while present, are anywhere near widespread in the community.

The Health DG must stop speaking like his fly-by-night Minister and report the facts like a professional.  Do not give Malaysians half-baked excuses and speculative projections.

Instead, give us a proper plan – like how the MoH will be systematically increasing testing – directly as well as via third parties, what are the targeted positivity rate reductions we want to see as well as other concrete measures the Ministry is doing to upgrade and expand our facilities and resources to fight and treat COVID-19.

Tony Pua

MP for Damansara

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