Statistical analysis of change-points ascertains the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for COVID-19 in Malaysia

The SFC-GCRF project “Post-MCO Strategies for Controlling Covid-19 in Malaysia,” led by Sarat Chandra Dass, Associate Professor at Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, is part of the twelve HWU-GCRF projects tackling the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in developing countries. 

This research demonstrates the efficacy of non-pharmaceutical interventions in Malaysia as resilient measures of stemming disease spread during the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the disease before and after the implementation of Movement Control Order (MCO) is quantitatively analysed by means of mathematical models and data-driven methodologies.

The second wave of COVID-19 in Malaysia was caused by a massive gathering held in Sri Petaling between February 27, 2020, and March 1, 2020, and contributed to an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases in the country. Since March 18, 2020, the Malaysian government introduced four consecutive phases of the MCO to stop the spread of COVID-19. Key information on how the disease spread after the Sri Petaling gathering (before the MCO) and how the MCO mitigated this spread has been several of the significant impacts of this research in the Malaysian context. Researchers were able to produce forecasts and advise the government on how the MCO should be lifted after April 28, 2020.

The MCO was implemented from several non-pharmaceutical interventions. The number of reported cases peaked in the first week of April 2020 and then began to decline, demonstrating the effectiveness of the MCO. Effective containment prevented the health system from breaking down (as seen in many countries) and allowed a gradual return to economic activities. As a result, vulnerable communities were protected from severe repercussions of the COVID-19 second wave.

The article ‘A Data-Driven Change-point Epidemic Model for Assessing the Impact of Large Gathering and Subsequent Movement Control Order on COVID-19 Spread in Malaysia’ highlights all the important findings for this research conducted by Sarat C. Dass, Wai M. Kwok, Gavin J. Gibson, Balvinder S. Gill, Bala M. Sundram and Sarbhan Singh.  As a result of this research, the project team had the opportunity to consolidate the relationship with key stakeholders such as the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Malaysia. This partnership with MoH will continue to grow as a result of the need to analyse further related infectious diseases in Malaysia such as dengue, chikungunya, and other vector-borne diseases. 

The project team was successful in obtaining external funding in the form of a Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS) in Malaysia which was awarded last year. This evidences that a small application helps our colleagues in Heriot-Watt Malaysia Campus to attract local funding opportunities. That becomes a multiplier effect considering that they have built a team, obtained equipment necessary for the research, acquired management experience, and already had valuable outputs in place as publication and recommendation to policymakers.