What really went wrong in Malaysia’s fight against COVID19?
Just when Malaysia almost able to bend the curve, it suddenly spiked up again and it is running loose now. Have we gotten lax in enforcement and maintaining our precautions? It is the same case with water disruptions in the state of Selangor – it is happening way too frequently these days. Image source: Our World In Data
Spike in COVID19 Cases
The 2 main clusters that saw the spike of active COVID19 cases in Malaysia is from the State of Sabah which triggered by the state elections (the whole state is fast turning into the red zone) and the other is the outbreak in prisons. How the authorities allowed the spike to happen? Image source: MOH
Failure of SOP in Sabah Elections
Sabah elections were triggered by short-minded politicians jumping from one political party to another that caused the Government led by Warisan to lose the majority in the State Assembly. Although it was not the wisest thing to be doing during a major pandemic, Warisan decided to call for fresh elections instead of handing over the reins of the State to the oppositions. They were confident of getting the mandate of the people again.
So when the number of COVID19 cases started to spike up in Sabah and Peninsular (due to returnees from Sabah), the state elections were blamed. But then that alone does not explains the spike.
Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah insisted that complacency of complying with existing standard operating procedures (SOP) was the main factor behind the spike of Covid-19 cases, in reference to the recently held state elections.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had admitted that the campaigning for the recent Sabah state election was among the probable causes of the recent Covid-19 spike.
Muhyiddin said the Election Commission had outlined standard operating procedures for campaigning, but lamented that some failed to obey them.
In Peninsular, the lack of the mandatory 14 days’ quarantine on all returnees from red zones was another factor that caused the further spike in the number of cases, especially in the Klang Valley. When we are enforcing 14 days quarantine for all foreigners & Malaysians from overseas to keep our COVID19 numbers down, we did not do the same for returnees from Sabah.
On the 24th of October, we recorded 1,228 cases in just one day. Obviously, we failed to learn our mistakes from the past screw-ups. Image source: MOH
They are urging people to be responsible and practise self-regulation, that is, to abide by standard operating procedures (SOP), avoid crowded places, wear a face mask in public places, maintain physical distancing and regularly wash and sanitise their hands.
Epidemiologist Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, a professor at Universiti Malaya, said he was puzzled by the SOP as the experience through the Sivagangga cluster’s index case had proven that a negative first test might not hold and might read positive the second time around.
If we had expected Malaysians to behave and follow SOP strictly we would not have lockdowns in the first place.
Failure of SOP in Prisons
Have the prison authorities been living unaware of the pandemic?
Malaysia on Wednesday recorded a total of 1,126 active COVID-19 cases among prison inmates and staff across the country.
Zulkifli Omar, head of the Prisons Department, said coronavirus transmission among inmates started when Tawau Prison in Sabah received a new inmate from Lahad Datu, who tested positive early this month.
“The other cluster was detected in Alor Setar Prison on Sept. 29 and we are handling this issue seriously,” said Zulkifli in a press release on Wednesday.
It has spread to detention centres in Kamunting as well and it is linked to the inmates from Alor Setar prison. Overcrowding has been blamed on the fast spread of the infection as well.
There is a need to relook Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) in Peninsula prisons, Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham said today.
“As 25 per cent of today’s positive cases came from the prison premises in Peninsular Malaysia we will increase screening not just in the prisons but also at remand, lockup and detention centres,” he said at the ministry’s daily Covid-19 briefing.
If it is time to relook at the SOP in Malaysian prison due to the spike of COVID19 cases, then what was the SOP before this? What were the shortcomings and what it was not detected earlier? It is a big concern because all offenders of COVID19 (except for VVIPs of course) are being sentenced to the same prisons as well.
Reoccurrence of Water Disruptions
Let’s get one key fact about Malaysia right before we proceed further.
Malaysia is in the tropics which means it has 2 main seasons which is a dry season and another is a wet season. We even have thunderstorms in the dry season and yet we have very frequent water disruptions in Malaysia. Image source: Weather And Climate
Number of disruptions in 2020
Just look at the sheer number of incidents of water disruptions in the Klang Valley this year alone:-
57 areas in Gombak faced water disruption due to a burst pipe at the Hulu Kelang pump house. Repair works were completed by 6.30 pm on the same day, with the water supply returning to normal within 24 hours.
Water treatment plants in Sungai Selangor (LRA) Phase 1 (SSP1), Phase 2 (SSP2), Phase 3 (SSP3) and Rantau Panjang were forced to halt operations after odour pollution was detected at the raw water intake source in Sungai Selangor. The water supply was fully restored only the next day.
Another round of odour pollution resulted in the Sungai Selangor Water Treatment Plant (WTP), Phase 1 (SSP1), Phase 2 (SSP2) and Phase 3 (SSP3) shutting down, affecting 1.2 million users in KL, Petaling, Klang, Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Gombak and Kuala Langat. Operations resumed the following morning, with the water supply slowly restored to normal starting at noon for the next 24 hours.
A water pipe near Jalan Langat in Klang burst, affecting the areas of Bandar Bistari and Batu 5 and 6. Repair works were completed by 1.30 pm on the same day, and water supply completely restored by 2 am on June 12.
Almost 300 areas were affected by a scheduled water disruption due to repair and improvement works to the Sungai Selangor Phase 3 Water Treatment Plant. The works were completed on July 17 and the plant fully operation by 5 pm, by which time nearly 90 per cent of those affected had their water supply resumed.
20 areas in Gombak faced another round of water disruption, this time due to scheduled upgrading and replacement of critical assets at the Sungai Gombak Water Treatment Plant. The water supply was fully restored by 9.30 am the following day.
1,292 areas in the Klang Valley, Petaling, Klang/Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Gombak and Kuala Langat experienced an unscheduled water supply disruption, following the halting of operations the water treatment plants in Sungai Selangor Phases 1, 2, 3 and Rantau Panjang, due to odour pollution that was later identified to have come from a factory in Rawang.
This disruption was the longest for Selangor in 2020 yet, with the supply fully restored by 9amsix days later.
The water treatment plants in Semenyih and Bukit Tampoi ceased operations at 4.30 pm, leaving 274 areas in Petaling, Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat and Sepang without water.
The cause was attributed to odour pollution said to have originated from the Nilai Industrial Estate in Negri Sembilan, which entered Sungai Semenyih from Sungai Batang Benar.
Sungai Semenyih resumed operations on October 6, followed by Bukit Tampoi the following day, with water supply restored in stages within the next 24 hours.
Why the relevant authorities in Malaysia did not demolish all the illegal factories along the rivers that contribute raw water to the water treatment plants? Why there have not been swift arrests and lockdowns in place of the legal factories who intentionally release chemicals into these rivers? Why there have not been severe penalties imposed on those who purposely pollute the waters knowing that it will impact millions of consumers?
Some of the facts in relation to water disruptions in Malaysia are way too obvious
Therefore, as long as illegal factories are allowed to operate in the country, the issue of river pollution will not go away. The closure of water treatment plants, especially in Selangor where the mushrooming of illegal factories is rampant, will continue to happen.
The answer lies in the water treatment system which would be able to cope with pollution. A treatment process which can efficiently remove pollutants will stop water disruption, which is the real pain for all.
Talking to some experts in water treatment technologies, it has become evident that there are technologies that can efficiently remove such pollutants. The technologies are admittedly slightly more expensive than the ones for water remediation.
Whenever Malaysia have pollution in our rivers, it is obvious that the relevant authorities in Malaysia don’t have a feasible backup plan other than switching off the water treatment plant and wait for the level of pollution to go down before switching on the water supply again. We have been only reactive whenever there is water pollution instead of acting proactively to stop potential water disruptions.
We need to act smart, proactive and ensure the same strict enforcement of the law to all.