Contact tracing is key in the war against Covid-19

By Farhan Kamarulzaman,

Following the unexpected rise of Covid-19 cases that recently hit Malaysia, it is crucial to bear in mind that Malaysians should remain vigilant and should not take the contact tracing lightly, as it is the vital way to curb the spread of Covid-19.

This is because contact tracing, which is defined as the process of identifying people who may have come into contact with someone who is infected with Covid-19 and subsequently collecting further information about these contacts, is essential for our country, particularly during this new wave of infection.

They are also likely to be at greater risk of infection, and of potentially infecting others further.

Besides, contact tracing can determine the high-risk places for individuals to take action such as disinfection and remind people to avoid the areas. It is now more useful as most rakyats have used the MySejahtera mobile application well.

Contact tracing has now been made simple compared to the start of the pandemic because 17 million Malaysians are now using the MySejahtera mobile app, as reported by Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin during his recent announcement on Oct 6.

With more than 60 percent of rakyat now using the MySejahtera mobile app, it will significantly help the Ministry of Health (MOH) to perform contact tracing activities. But to further ensure this, it is best for individuals who have not yet registered the application to register and use it wisely in their daily lives.

Although it seems to be like a piece of good news, it does not mean that contact tracing is the only priority now. People should follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and avoid the 3Cs as stated by the MOH, which are crowded place, confined space and close conversation, to curb the Covid-19 spread.

Apart from the citizens’ responsibilities, it is also the responsibility of the person-in-charge of taking people’s information and checking their temperature to carefully ensure that individuals obey the SOPs properly by complete monitoring.

This involves people’s compliance with QR code scanning or manually writing their information, maintaining physical distancing and wearing a face mask while entering the premises.

Based on Crystal Watson, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, contact tracing is the best method for handling Covid-19 in an ongoing way and allowing the economy to open up again.

Since Malaysia is in the phase of Recovery Movement Control Order, contact tracing is essential to effectively balance both public health and economic aspects until the vaccine is found.

Previously, contact tracing was fully utilised by the government by MySejahtera app and manual contact tracing to identify the close contacts of the infected individuals for the clusters such as the Sivagangga cluster. Also, the MOH has managed to control the Covid-19 spread for most clusters.

Although our country has recently recorded 691 number of Covid-19 cases, which is the highest recorded, the government will undoubtedly be able to contain the spread of the new clusters like how they have successfully done it in the previous clusters through the use of contact tracing activities.

However, people should be extra careful now by following the SOPs because we are currently experiencing the third wave of Covid-19 infection, as reported by Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

Plus, another crucial thing is people should never neglect the process of providing personal information so that it does not interfere with all the MOH activities to detect individuals involved with the infection.

Additionally, the MOH is using these categories of close contacts to determine the risks of the groups;

  • A. refers to individuals infected with Covid-19;
  • B. refers to individuals who have close contact with individuals from Category A and require to do the swab test;
  • C. refers to individuals who have close contact with individuals from Category B and need to stay at home (home self-surveillance);
  • D. refers to individuals who have close contact with individuals from Category C, can go out for work or other business; and
  • E. refers to individuals who are not related to any categories.

It implies that the categories C and D should wait for the test results of B, so if B is tested positive, C will become B, and D will become C. And if B is tested negative, B has to do the 14 days of home self-surveillance, while C and D are free to resume their activities as usual.

According to MOH, the close contact means;

  • Family members (sleeping/eating together) of the same household or the same small group;
  • Face to face for more than 15 minutes in an enclosed space at a distance of less than 1 metre;
  • Not face to face but staying together in an air-conditioned closed room for more than 2 hours; and
  • Riding the same vehicle between two seats over two hours.

People’s awareness of this crucial information will undoubtedly ease the process of contact tracing by the MOH as some individuals are still not aware of this.

But this kind of information does not mean keeping people in a state of panic; it is just to show how public awareness of contact tracing is vital to curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Indeed, people need to know at this juncture we are far from winning the war against Covid-19. So, stay safe, follow the SOPs and let’s work together against this pandemic for our country’s public health safety.

Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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