SEBERANG PERAI (Aug 17, 2009): The federal government has declared a health emergency in Malaysia due to the A(H1N1) outbreak which has so far taken 64 lives, and a health curfew similar to the week-long shutdown of non-essential services and industries in Mexico has not been discounted.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai however said any curfew can only be considered if the virus mortality rate of those infected breach 0.4%, and even then, it has to be decided by the National Security Council.
However, he said the character of the virus remained unchanged for now as it is still attacking the high-risk group.
Mexico, which was the first and hardest hit by the A(H1N1) pandemic had ordered a shutdown of businesses and public places, including dancing halls, bars, sports centre, arts centres, cinemas and parks, for a week from May 1 to contain the spread. Restaurants were allowed to open, but only serve take-away food.
“We are discussing in-depth the health curfew move that was taken in Mexico,” said Liow, adding that the Health Ministry was monitoring the infection and mortality cases and the proliferation of the disease daily.
For now, the government wants the public to do their part to contain the outbreak by wearing masks if they have influenza-like illnesses (ILI) and to practice self-quarantine.
Those having ILI symptoms and found not wearing the mask in public can be charged under Section 12(1) the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, which carries a compound fine of RM10,000 or two-year jail term, Liow said.
In line with the declaration of health emergency, the Domestic Trade, Co-operatives And Consumerism Ministry will fix the ceiling prices for various types of masks and an announcement will be made soon.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who was wearing a face-mask at the Permatang Pasir state by-election nomination centre today, said the face mask can be listed as a controlled item under the Price Control Act on grounds of necessity and health for about a year.
He said this after Liow, who was also present, reported to him that the masks were being sold for as much as RM5 each by unscrupulous traders.
To date, the country has registered a total of 4,225 cases of people infected with A(H1N1) virus, most of whom have already been treated.
There have been 64 deaths, including a 7-month old boy who died on Aug 15 and a 74-year old woman who succumbed on Aug 12, he added.
Later, speaking to reporters after launching the Asia Healthcare 2009 Conference, Liow said the ministry has directed all private and government doctors to prescribe anti-viral drugs for patients who suffer from fever longer than two days and influenza-like illness with co-morbid condition.
He said this is because late anti-viral treatment was one of the reasons for a number of deaths and the ministry did not want patients to wait for test results before receiving the treatment.
Liow also disclosed that the government healthcare sector is facing a serious shortage of manpower.
He said as of June 30, there were 240,236 vacancies for doctors approved by the Public Services Department but only 13,902 (57.4%) positions were filled; 2,549 for dentists but only 1,442 (66.6%) filled; 4,030 for pharmacists but 2,086 (47.1%) filled; and 44,897 for staff nurses but 39,263 filled.