By Hafiz Hassan
ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) advice, any decision to hold an event during the COVID-19 pandemic, no matter how large or small, should rely on a risk-based approach. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-small-public-gatherings
The virus – SARS-CoV-2 – can be transmitted through droplets, aerosols, environmental contact and oral-faecally, thus the importance of upholding hygiene standards and minimizing contact with one another. A risk-based approach to the pandemic that is focused on the people’s safety, adopting a wide safety margin, and responding dynamically to the level of risks involved in gatherings, large or small, maximizes safety and reduces disease spread.
This explains why countries have imposed restrictions on gatherings. Take South Korea for example. On December 22 last year, with Christmas and New Year holidays approaching, South Korea’s capital Seoul and its surrounding areas imposed a ban on gatherings of more than four people (rule of 4) as the country recorded its highest daily death toll from Covid-19 the day before (Dec 21).
The number of Covid-19 cases had broken the 50,000 mark, with 926 new cases and 24 new fatalities adding to the number of cases to over 50,000 and the death toll of 698, just 2 short the of 700 mark.
Announcing the restriction, then acting Seoul Mayor Seo Jung-hyup said: “We cannot overcome the current crisis without reducing cluster infections that are spreading through private gatherings with families, friends and colleagues.”
“Private gathering” referred to any gathering for the purpose of socializing. These include gatherings among friends, year-end parties, New Year’s parties, workshops, housewarming parties and office dinners, among others. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20201222000855
The restriction was expanded – into the new year and until January 17 – to the whole country because, as explained by the health minister, as much as 40 per cent of the country’s recent cases had been linked to small gatherings.
Although elsewhere the percentage is not as high as 40, it is the small gatherings in household settings that are fueling the Covid-19 surge. Gatherings like thanksgiving dinners and reunion dinners. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live in the same household. These are gatherings that can increase the chances of getting or spreading Covid-19.
As such, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that one does not gather with people who do not live in the same household. Attending events and gatherings increases one’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.
Like it or not, the safest way to gather is virtually or with the people in the same household. The best advice that any government can give to the people is to avoid indoor gatherings of any kind, especially in smaller rooms that make distancing difficult, if not impossible. That includes traditional family holiday celebrations.
How then does one make sense of the SOPs for Hari Raya as announced by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob? https://bebasnews.my/?p=60104
The SOPs allow house visits in movement control order (MCO) areas with guests not exceeding 15 persons at any one time (rule of 15). For conditional MCO (CMCO) and recovery MCO (RMCO) areas, visits are allowed from the first to the third day of Raya, with the numbers limited to 20 persons at any one time (rule of 20) for CMCO areas, and with the numbers not exceeding 25 persons at any one time for RMCO areas (rule of 25).
After Seoul’s and the whole of the country’s rule of 4, daily new cases peak at 1,237 on Christmas day (Dec 25) before the numbers went sliding down to as low as 303 on February 1, 2021. The rule of 4 and other restrictions must have been effective.
Which also explains Singapore’s announcement of tighter measures for about three weeks from May 8 to curb the spread of infection. It will be a tighter rule of 5 instead of the current 8. Households will only be able to receive five distinct visitors per day.
Singaporeans have been advised to keep to a maximum of two social gatherings per day, whether it is to visit another household or to meet with friends or family in a public place.
The rule of 5 applies to all social gatherings, including dining at restaurants. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/5-person-rule-covid-19-measures-whats-allowed-testing-14743948
And Singapore daily new cases? 16 (15 imported, 1 community) as of May 5, 12.00 noon. https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/1-new-case-of-locally-transmitted-covid-19-infection-5May-updated
Anytime people from different households get together, the risk of infection increases. One may therefore ask: do the SOPs for Hari Raya follow a risk-based approach?
Hafiz Hassan is a reader of BebasNews