Malaysia Dateline

Dr. Boo: This pandemic has exposed the intrinsic weaknesses in our institutions

Johor DAP state committee member Dr.Boo Cheng Hau shares his expert opinion on everything pandemic related; from vaccine mandates to PN’s testing strategy.

Dr. Boo like many other seasoned healthcare professionals could only watch in disbelief as the Perikatan Nasional(PN) government repeatedly made grave errors in managing the pandemic.

The former Skudai assemblyman made a particularly painful observation that the pandemic could have been controlled if PN had continued with asymptomatic close contact testing.

As Dr. Boo points out, “Even though asymptomatic patients have roughly one-fourth the viral load of symptomatic patients, there are more people infected by asymptomatic carriers because a higher proportion — that is more than ninety percent of infected patients are asymptomatic.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the new Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin may already be on the same trajectory of under-testing.

In a recent statement regarding vaccine mandates, the Health Minister announced unvaccinated Malaysians may need to follow a strict testing regime.

Khairy also mentioned plans to test everyone, but only once the virus becomes endemic.

“Those who are vaccinated can still transmit the virus while being asymptomatic. It is imperative that everyone be tested frequently regardless of their vaccination status. There is no clinical evidence which justifies leaving out those who are vaccinated from frequent testing,”says Dr. Boo.

In other words, if a testing schedule were to be introduced it should apply for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated if we want to truly contain the virus.

In addition to frequent testing, Dr.Boo advises the government to step up the genome sequencing testing rate to identify any emergence of new variants.

According to Dr. Boo, Malaysia’s current genome sequencing rate is abnormally low at 0.15 percent, while many countries have already passed a 10 percent rate for their PCR samples.

It is no secret that much of PN’s failure burgeoned from an unwillingness to engage an all-of-society approach in combating the pandemic. They worked in isolation, impervious to criticisms and guidance from experts outside their private bubble.

Unfortunately for the public, Dr. Boo’s attempts to advise the government fell on deaf ears until it was too late.

In March 2020, Dr. Boo sounded the alarm on the necessity of approving rapid test kits for triaging patients. The delayed approval eventually led to an overwhelm in the country’s PCR testing capacity.

While PN’s lack of judgment played a huge role in Malaysia disastrous pandemic response, this is just part of the story. Dr. Boo wants to bring the conversation back to the much deeper systemic problems that have existed for decades in the country.

“This pandemic has exposed the intrinsic weaknesses in our institutions beyond the public health sector. The government simply could not mobilise resources promptly and utilise them efficiently,” he said.

The speed of Malaysia’s vaccine rollout was certainly compromised by the government’s lackadaisical approach in handling these matters.

“There was a considerable delay in vaccine procurement. Our mass vaccination program kicked off months after countries like Singapore, UAE, Turkey, and Indonesia.”

Sadly, PN seemed more focused on vaccine hesitancy rather than serving the masses who were unable to secure an early vaccination appointment.

Dr. Boo believes that while vaccine hesitancy certainly exists, the majority of Malaysians were willing and even anxious to get inoculated.

Dr. Boo also tackled the tricky subject of vaccine mandates, a controversial issue at the forefront of growing protests in many countries including France, Germany, Australia, UK, and the US to name a few.

Those who are against the mandates believe that they are not only discriminatory but lack scientific credence as fully vaccinated individuals can still get infected and transmit the virus.

To this Dr. Boo explains that while a vaccinated person can still have breakthrough infections, the possibility of a vaccinated person falling severely ill and dying from Covid-19 is still lesser compared to their unvaccinated counterparts.

As there is still a possibility that a vaccinated individual may transmit the virus to others — masking, maintaining social distancing and observing other public health measures is still necessary for everyone, not just for those who are unvaccinated.

Civic responsibility is the key to managing the pandemic

Dr. Boo advocates for education centered around civic consciousness towards oneself, family, and our society as a step in managing the pandemic.

He believes that countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have succeeded in managing the pandemic more effectively due to their exemplary education system.

The simple approach of looking out for one another is difficult to implement in Malaysia when even our leaders are unable to practice what they preach.

Dr. Boo wants to stress the importance of healing the economy which can only begin when the pandemic is no longer an immediate threat to us.

“Everyone in Malaysia, especially those in government must understand that economic recovery depends on our success in containing the pandemic. It’s important that our leaders set a good example and obey the pandemic SOPs” he adds.

One can only hope that this new cabinet led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri chooses to listen to the experts this time around as we navigate a pandemic that isn’t going away anytime soon.