EAG Suggests Ways to Prevent Fourth Wave of Covid-19

KUALA LUMPUR: The government has been urged to roll out refined mitigation efforts capitalising on the use of advance technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to prevent the fourth wave of Covid-19.

The Health and Sciences Covid-19 Advisory Group of Experts (EAG) made the call following the alarming number of positive cases detected in the country over recent weeks, which it said are over 1,000 per cent higher than the number of cases reported this time last year.

The EAG, which comprises representatives from four medical associations and two distinguished members of the medical fraternity, in a statement today, said these mitigation efforts should centre on Targeted Movement Control Order (MCO) with comprehensive digital find, test, trace, isolation, and support (FTTIS).

“All areas placed under Targeted MCO must fully employ digitised FTTIS, which is the key element for mitigating Covid-19 according to the World Health Organisation.

“Highly targeted MCO will minimise economic disruption, besides reducing the spread of Covid-19, balancing the wellbeing of both lives and livelihoods.

“State and district health authorities must be empowered to work with external experts and determine clear and transparent thresholds for when an area should be placed under MCO.

“The thresholds should be defined according to population density, number of cases, and geo-characteristics of the area, and communicated clearly to the public,” EAG said in the statement.

In addition to the above, the EAG proposed for the government to deploy comprehensive Covid-19 surveillance through mass targeted testing using antigen rapid test kits (RTK-Ag).

The current testing guidelines that still require fulfilling persons-under-investigation (PUI) and close contact criteria, said EAG, may result in undetected sporadic cases in the community.

“Machine learning and artificial intelligence tools should be better utilised for predictive risk modelling and assessment to identify hotspots and risk areas even before an outbreak occurs.

“Evidence from a population-wide rapid antigen testing initiative in Slovakia showed that for Covid-19, alongside other mitigation measures, can decrease prevalence by up to 70 per cent,” it said.

The EAG, which is chaired by Tan Sri Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman, also stressed the need to strengthen risk communication.

Covid-19 messaging, said EAG, should focus on improving health literacy and transmission risk factors in addition to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) compliance.

“For example, the general public should have a better understanding of the risks of indoor dining and socialising in a confined space compared to visiting an outdoor Ramadan bazaar which abides by strict SOPs.

“A greater understanding of the science behind Covid-19 measures will boost public trust and offset some of the pandemic fatigue which has set in, thus improving SOP compliance in the long run.”

The EAG also proposed for the setting-up of ‘pop-up’ vaccine registration and information centres at high traffic public areas, such as Ramadan bazaars, shopping malls and office buildings, in collaboration with non-government organisations.

These ‘pop-ups’, it said, can also double as rapid testing centres.

Additionally, national community engagement programmes for encouraging vaccine registration and combating hesitancy among vulnerable and marginalised populations such as the senior citizens, Orang Asli, migrants, and the digitally illiterate must be urgently expanded.

“All of government needs to be aligned on vaccine communications to encourage registration and combat hesitancy.”

Source: https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2021/04/685287/eag-suggests-ways-prevent-fourth-wave-covid-19

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