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We are pre-publishing features on Covid-19 slated for our July 2020 issue.
WITHIN ASEAN, the top six countries for confirmed Covid-19 cases are Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei. Compared to the other five countries, Thailand was the first to record a confirmed case on January 22, 2020 (Figure 1). Singapore had its first case the next day, and Malaysia on January 24.1 Throughout January to March, Malaysia had the most confirmed cases within ASEAN. It was soon overtaken by the Philippines on April 14, Indonesia on April 15 and Singapore on April 18.
Malaysia’s curve began flattening by mid-April, suggesting that the Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed on March 18 had successfully slowed down the spread of the virus. Covid- 19’s virulence in Thailand slowed down at the beginning of April.
As of June 13, Malaysia had 8,445 cases, while Singapore had exceeded 40,000 cases (Table 1). This is partly due to extensive testing among work permit holders residing in dormitories.
On June 14 Malaysia recorded 8,453 confirmed cases, with 986 active cases and 7,346 total recoveries as seen in Figure 2. The swift increase in March was mostly due to an outbreak at a Tablighi Jama’at event in KL. Total active cases began falling roughly two weeks after the MCO was announced, due to an early lockdown and strict control of social distancing measures.
The MCO was replaced by the Conditional MCO that was implemented between May 4 and June 9, to help economic sectors to reopen gradually and to prevent further outbreaks. The Recovery MCO was introduced on June 10 and will conclude by August 31.
As of June 14, the number of confirmed cases was the highest in Selangor (1,996 cases) and KL (2,414 cases) as seen in Figure 3. Cases increased quickly due to high population density and the outbreak from the tabligh event last March.
Labuan and Perlis had the lowest number of confirmed cases, at 17 and 18 respectively. Sarawak’s high count (557 cases) can be attributed to three different clusters linked to Malaysians returning from Italy, a church gathering and an outbreak at the Sarawak General Hospital. Penang had 121 cases, making up 1.4% of the total cases in Malaysia.
Based on Table 2, from March 14 to June 14, the average number of new cases recorded daily was the highest for Selangor (20.3 cases) and KL (25.2 cases). Johor followed closely behind with seven new cases each day. Labuan and Perlis had the lowest average with 0.2 new cases, respectively; while Penang registered an average of 1.2 new cases per day. Between April 27 and June 14, Penang recorded zero new cases.
While new Covid-19 cases in most states had tapered down, Selangor, KL and Negeri Sembilan saw new outbreaks close to the beginning of May (Figure 4). The spikes in Negeri Sembilan were due to a cluster in a tahfiz centre that involved students, teachers and family members.2
Penang recorded its first case on March 11, involving an employee in the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone who contracted the virus in KL. The uncertainty caused by the news immediately led to panic buying at major supermarkets, but this died down soon after the MCO was imposed. Similar to the rest of Malaysia, Penang’s economy has taken a hard hit from both the pandemic and the MCO. Its main drivers, the tourism and manufacturing sectors are highly reliant on China; and have had to face headwinds as early as January when China went into lockdown.
Active cases in Penang peaked on March 24 at 67 cases and began declining steadily, six days after the MCO was imposed. As of June 14, no new clusters or cases have been identified within the state; and almost all patients, 120 out of 121, recovered from the virus (Figure 5). Only one death, involving a 74-year-old man linked to the tabligh cluster in KL, was recorded in the state between March 14 and June 14 (not shown)3.
As seen in Figure 6, the districts of Seberang Perai Tengah and Timur Laut were the largest contributors to confirmed Covid-19 cases in Penang.
Seberang Perai Tengah had the highest number of confirmed cases at 40 and also the highest infection rate after accounting for population (Table 3). Seberang Perai Tengah was also the only district where a death occurred (not shown).
Despite its relatively high number of infections (32), Timur Laut had the lowest infection rate (55 cases per 1 million people). Separation from the mainland may have helped to slow down the spread between Seberang Perai and the island, leading to low infection rates in the Timur Laut and Barat Daya districts.
Seberang Perai Selatan had the lowest number of infections (11). By the second week of April, active cases in the district had fallen to zero. It would take three more weeks for other districts to achieve similar result.