MALAYSIA could face economic losses worth billions of ringgit if the country goes on the lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Various parties had urged the government to institute the measures including the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents and the Malaysian Bar.
Former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad — who is heading the Selangor Covid-19 taskforce — was against such move, but instead stressed on the need for social distancing and "gradated mitigation measures" to further "flatten the epidemic curve".
Universiti Malaya's Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Centre director Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said any decision to impose a lockdown must be based on scientific data and public health consultations.
"I think at this juncture, the Ministry of Health (MoH) together with public health experts should get together and look into the data. We cannot make a decision based on emotion.
"A simulation and modelling is needed to determine whether we can tackle the situation now or have we reached a point where we are unable to control it by the usual manner," Sazaly told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
Dr Sazaly said the decision for any lockdown should be based on objective, scope, scale and economic impact.
He said the MoH should engage with public health experts to dissect the available data, while health officials combat the virus on the frontline.
"Public health experts from local universities have been pitching for containment measures to the MoH, but I have not seen them being involved and consulted.
"Health officials look after the patients and that is fine. But this is more than a medical issue. It is a public health concern now," he said.
Taking the religious "tabligh" cluster as an example and using data from China and other countries, Dr Sazaly said a simulation would be able to predict the expected number of people who would be exposed to the virus, the percentage of infected people, asymptomatic carrier and projected number of cases.
"At least we get an idea, the potential calculated risks, when will the peak come, is it in one week or two weeks and so forth and how sharp will the peak be," he added.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said yesterday Malaysia is already in the "late containment" stage and the next phase could be for "mitigation".
Putra Business School associate Prof Dr Ahmed Razman Abdul Latiff said a country lockdown could cost billions although no exact quantum has been studied to date.
"There is no exact estimate of economic loss if the country announces a lockdown, but the figure could reach billions of ringgit because many businesses will be shut down except for a few essential ones.
"If the lockdown is prolonged, that will affect not just businesses but the people," Ahmed Razman told TMR.
He said workers could be retrenched and some businesses bankrupted.
Ahmed Razman said a lockdown could be temporary and there would be sufficient for businesses and workers to recover.
Italy and Spain are under a nationwide lockdown, while other countries and cities are limiting border access.
As at press time, the global count of Covid-19 cases topped 162,000 cases, involving 150 countries with over 6,400 deaths recorded. The total recovered case worldwide stood at over 76,000 cases or a 46.76% recovery rate.
As at 5pm yesterday, Malaysia has 125 new cases, bringing the total to 553 including 43 recoveries.