Tuesday, August 11, 2009

70pc infected in Sabah students

Kota Kinabalu: The spread of the Influenza A (H1N1) flu virus in Sabah is still under control although the situation is serious with new suspected and confirmed cases reported daily.

The State Cabinet Committee on the Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic in Sabah headed by State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, assured this after its first meeting Monday. He is its Chairman.

He said as of Sunday (Aug 10) 435 H1N1 cases were reported in the State, compared to 402 on Aug. 6 and 35 on July 11, with about 90pc of these cases being locally transmitted.

"The increase is quite drastic within a one-month period compared to July 11 when there were only 35 cases reported in Sabah.

"This shows there is basis for the concern voiced by the Chief Minister because we are taking the increasingly worrying development seriously," he said.

A total of 62 secondary and 43 primary schools were affected but 36 were closed temporarily for one week thus far, he said. Based on the report, it was clear that those most exposed to the H1N1 infection were of ages 11 to 20.

To date only four schools remained closed including SMK Batu Sapi in Sandakan, SMK Melati, Tawau, SMK Timbua in Ranau and SMK Pamol, Beluran. The rest have re-opened.

"This means students. We are quite concerned because 70 per cent of those infected are studentsÉI think we need to devise a strategy to lessen the risk of students being exposed to the virus," said Masidi.

Seventeen districts in the State were also already affected, he said, adding after being briefed by the Health Department the committee has suggested and advised the public to take the necessary precautionary measures.

Masidi said the public should take more ethical approaches in their social relationship, to try to keep at least one metre distance or social distancing, as well as to avoid unnecessary and uncontrolled grouping activities where there would be high chances of them getting infected.

"Because the virus can easily transmitted via a droplet. And also it is important that when coughing you close your mouth.

"For the moment try not to shake hands with others, it does not mean you are arrogant but because if you used your hands to cover your mouth when coughing, the virus on your hands would still be active for at least five minutesÉso this is another way the virus spreads," he said.

Regular washing of hands are also important as a preventive measure, he said, adding employers also need to ensure there is a good ventilation in the closed workplace area or office.

"High-risk people like pregnant women, those diagnosed to have asthma, obesity or health problems also need to avoid public places because they are the most vulnerable and most easily get infected," he said.

Masidi also urged the people to immediately take medicines after they find out they are sick or seek treatment right away.

He also hoped the parents will not send their children to school if the child developed flu-liked symptoms because "we are not sure whether it is only a common flu or something that can get worseÉthe school administrators I hope will be a bit lenient in this case".

"The committee, as well as I as the State Exco of Education also would like to advise all the schools to stop temporarily unnecessary assembly. The committee will continue issuing the real update from time to time for the public," he said.

Asked on the recent call by Labuan Chinese Chamber of Commerce Chairman Chin Chee Kee to the Education Ministry to rethink its decision on the school closures as it was not logical to close the entire school just because one or two of its students are suspected or even confirmed to have contracted the H1N1 virus, Masidi said:

"Those schools which have taken the initiative or ordered to close down temporarily, we can see the effectiveness. That's why when we asked these schools to close down we are not 'suka-suka', but you can see from the figure it is rather quite effective in containing the threat," he said.

He said the school administrators need to use their wisdom to decide the best way to contain the spread of the virus.

"Closing the school is, based on the figure, is the most effective measure to prevent the spread within a short-termÉanybody can say we are wasting time but finally I think it is not wasting our time to save the life of our children, which is more important than just mere words of comfort," he said.

He said this is the time where the full co-operation from everybody is vital and needed and "I think the time to blame anybody is goneÉit is serious for us to contain the spread of this virus, the sooner the better."

Meanwhile, Masidi said the first meeting was held to discuss and determine the terms of reference or jurisdictions of the committee.

The committee, which is co-chaired by Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister Datuk Edward Khoo, is assisted by joint secretaries namely the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry's Permanent Secretary Datuk Susanna Liaw and Assistant State Health Department Director (Public Health) Dr Mohd Yusof Ibrahim.

He said the committee's secretariat would be set up at the Ministry where Dr Yusof would provide all the necessary equipment and staff, including that related materials for distribution among the public.

Members of the committee also include representatives from the Information Department, Health Department, as well as from the Sabah Federal and State Secretaries offices. The number of committee members may be increased should there is a requirement.

"We have decided to the committee not to have too many members to make it easy to hold a meeting, which would be held at least once weekly. This would changed should there is a need for it," said Masidi, adding Dr Yusof will provide daily report on the H1N1 cases as well as brief on whatever is needed to inform the committee to facilitate further action.

Dr Yusof, meanwhile, said during a meeting held between the State Education Department and all the District Education Officers (PPD) on July 3 the PPD have assured good co-operation to the department in dealing with the H1N1 cases.

He also did not think there are schools which hiding the actual situation or if there is any H1N1 case in their school. "Even sometimes the school is not closed because there is an H1N1 case but the parents many do not want to send their children to schoolÉit shows there are already awareness among the people," he said.

He was asked about rumours that there are school administrators hiding a H1N1 case in their school.

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