Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Breakthrough Infections in Malaysia

Malaysia too has its share of breakthrough infections. 

According to a CodeBlue report dated Monday, about 17.8 percent, or 68,629 of 385,542 new Covid-19 cases reported in the country since August 12, were fully vaccinated. 

The proportion of fully vaccinated people two weeks or longer after their second jab in two-dose regimens, or breakthrough infections, among total coronavirus cases rose worryingly from 12.6 percent on August 12 to 23.9 percent on Sunday. 

It has been claimed that the majority of these breakthrough cases were asymptomatic or mild (i.e. Categories One and Two), accounting for more than 98 percent of total infections reported in fully vaccinated people so far. 

Breakthrough cases in Categories Three to Five requiring hospitalization only formed less than two percent of total coronavirus infections in fully inoculated people in that 18-day period. 

Slightly lower percentages of fully vaccinated people infected with Covid-19 were hospitalized for Categories Three to Five infection at 1.6 percent, compared to 2.2 percent for partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals. And only 0.8 percent of fully vaccinated people infected with the coronavirus entered the ICU for Categories Four to Five infections, compared to 1.3 percent of partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals. 

It is noteworthy to mention that although the Ministry of Health release data on breakthrough cases in all categories of clinical severity, the ministry do not publish daily numbers on fully vaccinated people among Covid-19 deaths. MOH’s daily statistics on the clinical categorization of new infections do not take into account people who deteriorate into severe disease after diagnosis.


Overall, the total Covid caseload is still stratospheric. It does look like the SARS-CoV-2 virus is staying put in this country. And I'm pretty sure Khairy Jamaluddin, the newly appointed health minister has realized this by now. 

Yesterday, he told MOH staffers their main priority is to control the surging coronavirus epidemic within the next 100 days by reducing infections and fatalities, including brought-in-dead cases. And that even if the pandemic is brought under control, they must accept that Covid is endemic and Malaysians will have to live with it. Didn't I tell you so?

Malaysia Prihatin

Today is Merdeka! Today, Malaysia turns sixty-four. 

And this year’s theme is the same as last year – Malaysia Prihatin – and it summons Malaysians to continue to care for each other as the country battles Covid-19. 

I thought I’ll share 3 of my favorite Merdeka 2021 videos. 

Teladan: DiGi's tear-jerker of a video shows the perspectives of primary school children who witness their parents' struggles and perseverance.

 

Lockdown Blues: Yoodo's "Bila Larut Lockdown" tells the hilarious yet heartwarming story of a man who realises his imagination is running wild when he begins to talk to his perabot.

 

#KitaJagaKita: Based on a true story, this short film “Ahchoo” by Etiqa showcases neighbors who find heartwarming ways to keep in touch with one another while staying at home.

 

Happy Merdeka, everybody!

Selamat Hari Merdeka!


Monday, August 30, 2021

Israel Decrees Covid Booster Shots for Everyone Above 12

Israel now offers Covid booster vaccine for ages 12 and above. 

On Sunday, the country’s head of public health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis (right) reiterated that the effectiveness of the second Pfizer vaccine dose wanes after six months – therefore making a booster necessary before disclosing the expanded booster push. 

“The third dose brings us to the level of protection achieved by the second dose, when it was fresh. That means, people are 10 times more protected after the third vaccine dose”, she said. 

Those eligible for the third shot can receive it provided at least five months have passed since their second jab. 

Hoping to curb the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, Israel began administering the booster to its older population a month ago and has been gradually lowering the age of eligibility. It stood at 30 before Sunday’s announcement. 

So far two million people out of a population of 9.3 million have received three doses. 

In yesterday’s Scottish Premiership match between Old Firm derby rivals, Rangers beat Celtic 1-0. 

A big achievement for the former given that Covid had denied them their manager, Steven Gerrard; their captain, James Tavernier; and their top two goalkeepers, Allan McGregor and Jon McLaughlin. And still they found a way to win. 

All that was needed was as BBC Scotland's Tom English said, “one piece of accuracy, one piece of hesitancy, one piece of barrelling belligerence from a defender-cum-attacker who wanted nothing more in those seconds than to get his head on a ball and put it in the net”. And it came in the sixty-sixth minute. 

It shows that for all the progress the Celtic manager feels he has made, he must surely know that he has a way to go in rebuilding the team.

Delta Tears Apart the Herd Immunity Narrative

As the Delta variant continues to spread, health experts are questioning whether the long-held goal of achieving herd immunity from Covid-19 through vaccination is still viable. 

Herd immunity is achieved when a certain threshold of the global population has either been inoculated against a pathogen or has recovered from infection.

I agree with Stuart Ray, MD (right), professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that herd immunity is a dangerous strategy for tackling Covid-19. 

He is of the view that rushing toward herd immunity by ignoring risky behavior in the hope that infected people will survive, become resistant and reduce the susceptible population is an approach that will increase deaths and disability, and should be avoided. 

And even if there are those who still opt for this strategy, I'm maintaining a stance that herd immunity is not achievable. With the regular emergence of more infectious strains, it would appear that I am right. 

Just consider the Malaysian situation. It's really bad and some may even say, it's getting out of hand. Already, 60 percent of Malaysia's adult population have been fully vaccinated but Covid cases remain stubbornly high. In fact, the country has been steadily climbing higher and higher, and now ranks at #23 among countries with the most number of infections todate!

“If the question is ‘will vaccination alone allow us to dampen and control the pandemic?’ the answer is: No”, epidemiologist Mircea Sofonea (left) told AFP

He said herd immunity hinged on two basic factors. “That’s the intrinsic infectiousness of the virus and the efficacy of vaccines to protect against infection. And at the moment, that efficacy isn’t there”. 

Delta has shown to be roughly 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and up to twice as infectious as the original strain that emerged in late 2019. The more effective the virus becomes at infecting people, the higher the herd immunity threshold becomes. 

“Theoretically, it’s a very simple calculation to make”, said eminent French epidemiologist Antoine Flahault (right). For the original virus, which had a reproduction rate between zero and three – meaning each infected person infects up to three others – herd immunity could have been achieved with around 66 percent of people immunized, Flahault told AFP. 

“But if the reproduction rate is eight, as with Delta, that puts us closer to 90 percent”, he said. 

Were vaccines 100 percent effective at stopping Delta infections, that 90 percent could conceivably be possible. Unfortunately, they aren’t. 

Notwithstanding the above, Flahault said “what scientists are recommending is to get the maximum number of people protected” through vaccination. 

Eventually, of course, all pandemics end. 

Sofonea said it’s likely that Covid would become another endemic disease over time, “just not with vaccines alone”. 

As I have said all along, it’s really time to accept the fact that we have to co-exist with Covid. The world doesn’t really have a choice.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Covid Vaccine Mock-ups

We know the world is scrambling to inoculate populations against Covid. And in Malaysia, the deceased gets a chance to get their jabs too.


There’s this store owner in Johor Bahru, Johor whose ‘handmade’ vaccines have become popular prayer offerings during the ongoing Hungry Ghost Festival. 

During this time of the year, people leave out food portions for their dearly departed and burn incense and make offerings made of paper resembling things the deceased may have wanted. 

FYI, this ‘celebration’ centers on the belief that the spirits of the dead return to Earth during the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. 

This year, a box set of a syringe and two vaccine vials are among the fastest-selling items for the festival at Raymond Shieh’s shop which specializes in selling prayer paraphernalia. 

Shieh explained: “The Covid-19 situation in our country is quite serious and many people passed away before receiving the vaccine. I hope this ‘product’ can help the deceased to fulfil their dying wish”. 

BTW, each set costs RM22.80 and Shieh said he has sold more than 200 sets so far. 

The spirits of the dead are here to enjoy a month-long vacation in the human world. So, it’s comforting to know that they are free to safely wander about because they too have received their vaccination. 

Yesterday, at Anfield, Liverpool fought hard against Chelsea in this fast and furious Premier League encounter but they ended with a 1-1 draw. 

It was the latter who took the lead in the twenty-second minute – but just seconds before the break, they had one defender sent off for a handball on the line. In the process, the former won a penalty which saw Mohamed Salah convert.


In the next 45 minutes, the Reds with a numerical advantage bulldozed their way forward to try and score but the Blues frustrated them at every turn. It was like playing against nine defenders. 

Anyway, it was a defensive masterclass from Chelsea and Liverpool weren’t able to find that all-important winner. And so, the latter forfeited two precious points. A real waste. 

Probably The Most Affordable Electric Car in the World

An electric car is on sale in China for just $2,100 (RM8,830). 

At this price, ElectricKar K5 is probably the most affordable electric car in the world – but be warned, one shouldn’t expect much in terms of performance or even comfort. It does look cute though. 

With a curb weight of 255 kg, an atypical look and endowed with very compact dimensions, it can accommodate two occupants, does not go faster than 40 km/h, and its 72 V battery takes no less than eight hours to recharge. 

Marketed on the Alibaba e-commerce site, it is actually an electric quadricycle. It is produced by Regal Raptor Motors, a manufacturer specializing in the production of electric motorcycles and scooters. 

Keep in mind, however, that this “car” may not be able to be driven in every country, as it would be subject to being approved for the road. 

On Thursday, I joined Ahmad Fakhri et al in a mini-workshop “Communicate with Confidence” conducted for top law firm, Azmi & Associates:






Saturday, August 28, 2021

Cold-blooded Murder

Tortoises, especially the terrestrial varieties are generally known to be herbivorous. 

But scientists in the Seychelles captured footage of one of the hulking reptiles engaged in an act of cold-blooded murder.




The video shot on July 30, 2020 showed an adult female Seychelles giant tortoise (Scientific name: Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) slowly approaching a lesser noddy tern chick with its mouth open, which is a typical aggressive gesture. 

It appeared that the chick had fallen from its arboreal nest in the treetops and was stranded on a log. Although it backed away to the edge of the log and defended itself from the tortoise with pecks, it was all a futile effort. The larger tortoise clamped its jaws down on the bird’s head, effectively killing it. 

The tortoise then climbed off the log to retrieve the dead carcass and swallowed it whole, making it a protein-rich addition to its plant-based diet. The whole morbid interaction took place in seven minutes. 

This incident was recorded in a study authored by Anna Zora of the Fregate Island Foundation in the Seychelles and Justin Gerlach of Cambridge University and published in Current Biology.

 

According to the study, the footage is the “first documented observation of a tortoise deliberately attacking and consuming another animal” and represents “an entirely novel behavioral strategy for any tortoise species”. 

The team wrote: “There are reports of Galapagos giant tortoises squashing birds under their carapace and we have heard of tortoises on Aldabra squashing crabs, but these are anecdotal and although it is implied that the act is deliberate, this is unclear”. 

What caused the tortoises to change its diet? The extensive environmental restoration on the island which led to a boom in both tortoise and tern populations might have led to this eventuality. 

When tern chicks fall from their tree nests, they are prey for a variety of predators such as lizards and crabs. The island’s tortoises might have simply adopted its diet to get easy meals.

“At present we do not know how extensive the behavior is on Frégate; future studies will determine whether it develops further or expands more widely in the tortoise population”, Zora and Gerlach concluded.

Oh Me, Oh My!

Oh me, oh my, my Malaysia has become a joke!






I'm being realistic! With Ismail Sabri Yaakob in charge of Malaysia, we shouldn't harbor any expectations.

The first thing he did was to boast that he and his cabinet will impress the rakyat within 100 days!

That's like asking for the moon. 

Nearly all of his coterie of ministers have served in Muhyiddin Yassin’s cabinet previously – so why would these twats still need another hundred days to prove themselves?! What were they doing in those seventeen months? They’re all scumbags, if you ask me! 

It does appear there isn’t that much of a difference between Muhyiddin and Ismail Sabri after all! Let's face it – we are saddled with an old, broken wooden cabinet!

#KerajaanBodoh 2.0 #KerajaanGagal 2.0

Friday, August 27, 2021

Questioning Our Covid Numbers

Malaysia’s Covid situation is very troubling. Insofar as infections go, we continue to see five-digit numbers. 

Like most Malaysians, I'm in despair at the government's gross incompetence. 

Even as I faithfully report Covid numbers, I know that I’m merely reporting for the sake of reporting. In truth, I don’t quite believe the official MOH numbers. 


Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that Port Klang state assemblyperson Azmizam Zaman Huri had questioned the accuracy of the death tally, as the number of grave burials was almost twice the reported coronavirus fatalities. He was referring specifically to the Klang district in Selangor. 

According to Azmizam (left), official records showed only 266 Covid-19 deaths in the Klang district between July 16 and August 10 this year. However, data on coronavirus-related burials from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) and civil societies combined indicate there were at least 448 burials involving Muslim victims alone. 

The PKR lawmaker brought up the issue at the Selangor state legislative assembly sitting yesterday: “I have to ask this because I see ambulances carrying dead bodies from homes in Port Klang every day. Some have been dead for a week. How are you classifying these deaths because the discrepancy (between death count and burials) is too wide. Surely, there are non-Muslim victims as well, and non-nationals that should be taken into account. Are they not recorded?

If that’s the case, how can there only be 183 Covid-19 deaths in July alone in Klang? This raises a lot of questions on the data. Is it reliable? Or is there an explanation to the data that is not being clearly indicated in the report?” 

Equally intriguing is his claim that Port Klang’s critical economic role meant that the area was never subjected to any form of lockdown since the Movement Control Order was first introduced in March last year, leading to soaring Covid-19 cases and deaths! 

I know I shouldn’t keep on with “I told you so” – but sigh, I must. 

On Wednesday, Dr. Takeshi Kasai (right), WHO regional director for the Western Pacific Region said that vaccines alone will not put an end to the Covid-19 epidemic in Malaysia, and that the country should also implement effective intervention measures to control the outbreak. He emphasized that it is important not to rely on just one measure, i.e. vaccination. 

So there. I’ve said it. Again. 

The Old Broken Wooden Cabinet

Malaysia's six-day-old Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced his cabinet today. 

And Malaysians have been duped. There's no new cabinet. Only a secondhand one and it's broken. 

Pathetic but what do you expect?  It's the same old, same old! 

What we have is a rotation of portfolios among the same group of twats. 

This is my Malaysia where stupidity reigns and incompetency rules.

#KerajaanBodoh 2.0 #KerajaanGagal 2.0

Horror Movie Tricks

The most effective horror movies play on viewers' senses. 

From Alfred Hitchcock to M Night Shyamalan, horror-film makers have always loved messing with our visual and auditory perception, using camera trickery, calculated shot composition, immersive sound design and other ruses. 

In the fascinating episode below of Movies Insider, we learn seven horror movie tricks used to build tension and scare the hell out of us or at least they try to:

Celtic pulled off a lucky escape yesterday! 

They survived a torrid night in the Netherlands to edge past AZ Alkmaar with a 3-2 aggregate to reach the Europa League groups for the fourth season running. The Scottish side had been playing well in recent matches but on Thursday, it turned nightmarish – an error-strewn game that caused them to surrender to the Dutch side. 

Kyogo Furuhashi's third-minute opener put Celtic ahead, but their Eredivisie opponents soon pounced on an error from goalkeeper Joe Hart to level just three minutes later and then center back Carl Starfelt's calamitous own goal gave AZ the second-leg lead. 

To their credit, Celtic dug in and saw the task through. 

Ange Postecoglou's men go into Friday's draw despite the end of their six-game winning run, while AZ drop into the Conference League.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Another UMNO Bigwig Pleads Not Guilty

Pontian MP and who is also the UMNO Secretary-General Ahmad Maslan (right) pleaded not guilty in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Tuesday to charges of money laundering for failing to declare RM2 million received from Najib Razak to the Inland Revenue Board and giving false statement to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

He had already pleaded not guilty to the charges for the first time last July 13 after the court allowed his application to transfer the case from the Sessions Court to the High Court. 

The transgressions of politicians from UMNO never seem to end! Please, I just want to see the whole lot of them locked away in Sungai Buloh. 

Is it too much to ask?

On the economic front, companies from all sectors in Malaysia are more pessimistic about the business environment in the three months of July to September. 

The Department of Statistics Malaysia’s latest Business Tendency Survey noted today that the business confidence indicator had plunged -21.3 percent in Q3 2021, which showed feebled confidence when compared to -3.1 percent in Q2 2021. 

Previously, the quarterly confidence indicator was -25.1 percent (Q2 2020), -21.0 percent (Q3 2020), before improving to -10.8 percent (Q4 2020), and dipping slightly to -11.3 percent (Q1 2021) and then improving to -3.1 percent in Q2 2021. 

This, of course, is attributed to the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic that is plaguing the country and the prolonged lockdowns. 

In terms of the business outlook for July to December 2021, it’s all gloom and doom. 

Meanwhile, on the political front, something strange happened yesterday:


Note: Only Malaysians can understand it.

Minimalist Comics Without Dialogue by Karlo Ferdon

There are times when it’s good to keep things simple. 

And when it comes to simple things with deep significance, that's exactly what comic artist Karlo Ferdon's art portrays. He’s a Chilean cartoonist who shows us that you don’t need words to make someone laugh and convey an important point. 

The artist creates minimalist comics without dialogue about all kinds of absurd and silly situations in everyday life – and we think that it's pretty much impossible not to squeeze out a laugh or, at the very least, not to identify with the messages passed in them.













Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Pfizer Vaccine Efficacy Diminishes

My blog post this morning reveals the Israeli experience with Pfizer booster shots specifically and vaccine efficacy in general. 

I have decided to probe deeper into the latter – and indeed, managed to dig up additional new info.  

A Wall Street Journal news report on July 23 had highlighted that data from Israel had suggested Pfizer’s vaccine had become less effective in preventing infection of Covid-19, although it remains a robust bulwark against serious illness. 

The findings, which are preliminary and based on a small sample, suggested that after two shots, the vaccine was 39% effective at reducing the risk of infection and 40% effective at reducing the risk of symptomatic disease during a period when the Delta variant dominated cases in Israel, according to the country’s Health Ministry. 

I also located a BMJ report (BMJ 2021; 374 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n1920, published July 30, 2021) that mentioned that the efficacy of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine fell from 96% to 84% over six months – after the second dose – according to Pfizer data that had been released. The preprint, which contained the latest data from the original clinical trial, found an average decline in vaccine efficacy of 6% every two months. Hmmm, this definitely raises concern!  

This is supported by a “real world” study, conducted by the University of Oxford and the Office for National Statistics and published Thursday in a preprint that analyzed more than 3 million PCR tests from a random sample of people for a detailed picture of infection patterns as Delta became the dominant variant this year. And its findings showed that the Pfizer vaccine lost effectiveness in the first 90 days after the second jab. 

And when vaccinated people did get infected with Delta, they were shown to have similar levels of virus in their bodies as those who hadn’t had shots. This suggests that vaccinating large portions of a population might not protect those who don’t get inoculated, casting doubt on the idea of achieving herd immunity. 

Anyway, the third jab has already raised ethical concerns. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (left), the Director-General of the World Health Organization, has urged rich countries, including Israel, to send the doses to poor countries that cannot provide even a first vaccine to their citizens. 

But not surprisingly, this has largely fallen on deaf ears.