Malaysia must not learn blindly from the lessons of UK, US or China but must craft a firm, creative, flexible and even nimble strategy to fight and win the invisible Covid-19 war

Three grim milestones were chalked up in the last 24 hours in the invisible global war against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first grim milestone is the continued acceleration and exponential spread of Covid-19 cases. It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for second 100,000 cases, four days for the third 100,000 cases, three days for the fourth 100,000 cases; two days for the fifth 100,000 cases; and just one day short of 3,000 cases to reach the sixth 100,000 cases. The global total has reached 597,267 when it was 531,504 the previous day.

The second grim milestone was in the United States when the number of people infected with Covid-19 in the United States passed the 100,000 mark, with a shocking daily increase of 18,418 cases, with the number of fatalities of over 1,600, pushing the global death toll to 27,286.

The third grim milestone was Italy, which announced 919 new deaths from coronavirus, the highest number of fatalities any country has reported in the space of 24 hours since the outbreak began late last year.

The total number of people who have died as a result of COVID-19 in Italy now stands at 9,134 – almost three times the total Covid-19 deaths in China (3,287). The total number of cases also continue to rise, hitting 86,498 – the second nation to surpass China, which had a total Covid-19 cases of 81,340.

This has dashed hopes that Europe is containing the pandemic, with Spain recording 769 new deaths in a day, bringing the total number of fatalities to 4,858 out of a total of 65,719 cases; Germany recording a new total of 50,871 (daily increase of 6,933 cases), France totalled 32,964 (increase of 3,809), United Kingdom totalled 14,543 (increase of 2,885) and Switzerland 13,143 (increase of 1,332).

The head of the Italian national health institute has warned that Covid-19 infections have not yet reached their peak in the country and that lockdown measures will have to be extended.

Worldwide, the cases have reached more than 597,267 of which about 133,363 cases have recovered.

With the United States as the new epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, doctors and nurses on the front lines of the US coronavirus crisis has pleaded for more protective gear and equipment to treat waves of patients expected to overwhelm hospitals.

"We are scared," Dr. Arabia Mollette of Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn told Reuters news agency. "We're trying to fight for everyone else's life, but we also fight for our lives as well, because we're also at the highest risk of exposure”.

Physicians have called particular attention to a desperate need for additional ventilators, machines that help patients breathe and are widely needed for those suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the highly contagious and deadly virus.

One emergency room doctor in Michigan, an emerging epicenter of the pandemic, said he was using one paper face mask for an entire shift due to a shortage and that hospitals in the Detroit area would soon run out of ventilators.

“We have hospital systems here in the Detroit area in Michigan who are getting to the end of their supply of ventilators and have to start telling families that they can’t save their loved ones because they don’t have enough equipment,” the physician, Dr. Rob Davidson, said in a video posted on Twitter.

This is the common heart-wrenching situation in countries fighting the Covid-19 pandemic but it is most shocking that the public health conditions in the United States are so fragile.

On the Global Health Security Index, a report card that grades every country on its pandemic preparedness, the United States has a score of 83.5—the world’s highest. Rich, strong, developed, America is supposed to be the readiest of nations. That illusion has been shattered. Despite months of advance warning as the virus spread in other countries, when America was finally tested by COVID-19, it failed.

The testing fiasco has been described as the “original sin” of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure. If the country could have accurately tracked the spread of the virus, hospitals could have executed their pandemic plans, girding themselves by allocating treatment rooms, ordering extra supplies, tagging in personnel, or assigning specific facilities to deal with COVID-19 cases.

None of that happened. Instead, a health-care system that already runs close to full capacity, and that was already challenged by a severe flu season, was suddenly faced with a virus that had been left to spread, untracked, through communities around the country.

Overstretched hospitals became overwhelmed. Basic protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, began to run out, followed by beds and ventilators that provide oxygen to patients whose lungs are besieged by the virus.

It seems to be the signs of the times that when the United State President spoke by phone to the United Kingdom Prime Minister, who had been tested positive for Covid-19, the first thing Boris Johnson said to Donald Trump was “We need ventilators” and Johnson asked Trump twice for ventilators.

Malaysia must learn from the mistakes of United States, Europe and even China, but we must not blindly follow other countries in the invisible global battle against the Covid-19 epidemic, but must craft our own response to the Covid-19 challenge – one which is firm, imaginative, creative, flexible and even nimble to the new and variegated challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic to public health, economic, information and political systems in the world.

A start to the “firm, imaginativfe, creative, flexible and even nimble” response to the Covid-19 pandemic is the proposal by “Uncle Yap” in the Malaysiakini letters’ column for the Movement Control Order (MCO) to be modified to allow a person to exercise alone or with a family member away from home.

As Uncle Yap said:

“In almost every town and village in Malaysia, you will find groups of citizens gathering in the morning from 6 to 7 at basketball courts, recreation grounds and other open spaces in their neighbourhood.

“As long as they keep their social distance of one metre, what is the harm in allowing them to pursue their healthy daily routine of tai chi, chi gong, line-dancing, etc?

“If the MCO is slightly amended to allow people to exercise alone or with family members or if, in a group, to observe the social distance then we will have our people continuing to maintain good health which is so essential to sustaining a strong immune system to resist Covid-19.”

Over to the Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri