Disjointed contact tracing aggravates Covid-19

If contact tracing and quarantine issues are not resolved, health experts say transmission could not be restrained

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

MORE Covid-19 positive individuals are falling through the cracks without the necessary treatment or follow up by the authorities as a result of an incoherent contact tracing system that is conducted by government medical facilities and private testing centres.

As daily cases pile up and queues at government testing facilities get longer, more people are opting to do their Covid-19 tests at private clinics and medical centres — a decision that has left them hanging as they anticipate the authorities’ next course of action.

Health experts have also expressed their worries that transmission of Covid-19 in the community could not be restrained if the authorities’ contact tracing and quarantine issues are not resolved.

Kasih Cyberjaya Hospital general health and occupational health specialist Dr Hanafiah Bashirun said while contact tracing plays a pivotal role in containing the spread of Covid-19 infection, the exercise is still pointless if the patients are not being treated.

“We’ve reached the point where it is good to know that you are positive — especially for asymptomatic Covid-19 patients — but it won’t change anything.

“Most importantly, we need to protect the high-risk older adults to avoid an increasing number of death,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Grouses are now mounting among quite a number of Covid-19 positive patients who are still waiting to be picked up by the authorities to be sent to the designated hospitals and quarantine centres.

“My son and I have been tested positive with Covid-19 for over a week now, and we are still holed up in one room at home waiting for the next course of action. My wife, who is negative, is now our caretaker, while we wait for the health officials to pick us up,” an individual who has been tested positive with Covid-19 told TMR.

He said he immediately notified the authorities when he got his result along with a list of names and contact numbers of his close contacts during the week of the diagnosis.

“From what I gathered from my contacts, none of them were called for testing. In fact, since they were not contacted by the officials, they decided to take the test voluntarily to ensure that they do not endanger others.

“After they were swabbed, they were also told by the private centres to be on standby as they will be notified by the authorities on the next course of action.

“I do understand that our health authorities are swamped at the moment, but something definitely needs to be done to curb the number from getting higher,” he added.

According to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that have been prescribed by the World Health Organisation, any person who has symptoms of the disease or been in close contact with individuals who are Covid-19 positive must undergo the necessary test.

In Malaysia, those who have been tested will be required to self-isolate immediately before the results are obtained.

Even if the initial results are negative, the individuals are still expected to self-quarantine before undergoing the second test that would determine if they are totally free of the disease.

Individuals who take the test at government facilities will have to wear a wristband throughout the quarantine period which can only be removed once they are tested negative after the second test.

“The problem is, those who take the test at private centres are not required to wear the wristband. Imagine if they were tested positive and did not have the conscience to stay put, and decided to be out and about, they are the perfect spreader,” another individual, who is waiting to undergo his second test, told TMR.

He said without the authorities’ intervention, it is up to each individual to be responsible enough to not endanger others.

He added that the quarantine SOPs that are promoted every other hour on TV are also totally different from the reality and that has also left the public rather confused.

“Is it 14 days or 10? Some quarters say it is only seven days. We need to be clear on this too, as this would also involve the human resources department of our respective workplaces too,” he said.

Monash University Malaysia’s School of Pharmacy lecturer Dr Mark Cheong said contact tracing has to be done comprehensively to ensure that people who have potentially been infected are isolated to curb the spread of the disease.

“So, if it is true that contact tracing is becoming lax, then this would be a serious issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Associate Prof Dr Malina Osman urged the public to stay home as public healthcare is now struggling to protect those who are already positive and symptomatic.

“With the current number of positive cases — which is more than 15 times compared to last year — we can imagine the frontliners’ workload in handling the pandemic, and the difficulties they face in conducting contact tracing.

“Current positive patients are relatively very high; and some priorities need to be given to treatment of symptomatic patients. Therefore, diverting those asymptomatic positive patients to remain at their homes is crucial,” she told TMR.

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Disjointed contact tracing aggravates Covid-19