PETALING JAYA: Malaysia needs to be more cautious and observe the trend of the cases in the United States and the United Kingdom, which are easing restrictions for those fully vaccinated, a bit longer before making a decision, say health experts.
They said we should take a look at the United Kingdom and the United States and realise what we really need and roll out plans applicable to our local settings.
On Saturday, the government said it was thinking of relaxing some restrictions for those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 and that a decision would be reached at the National Recovery Council meeting this week.
Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said we did not have to follow the UK, US or others in easing up restrictions while our population remained partially vaccinated.
“We have to be more cautious and more detailed in our evaluation.
“Our evaluation should consider details such as the clusters’ place of origin, the profile of Category 1 clinical cases, the people’s vaccination status and technical indicators,” he said yesterday.
He said Malaysia should continue with its current focused and localised public health and social measures, and constant reviews.
“We have to wait and see the trend of the indicators for about two to four weeks and make the right decision whether to relax the current SOP or not,” he said.
When asked about the indicators, Dr Zainal Ariffin said monitoring them would be important in preventing an epidemic or outbreak when Covid-19 is endemic in the country.
To prevent an outbreak, he said the indicators that we should monitor are the incidence rate, Rt value, doubling time and admission due to severe acute respiratory illness (SARI).
“In controlling the outbreak, we need to pay attention to the number of clusters, the size of clusters and the distance between clusters,” he said.
“In the event of overwhelming treatment capability, the indicators we should monitor to reduce complications of the infections are severity by category, the number of hospitalisations, the amount of oxygen needed and the number of ICU admission,” he added.
Universiti Malaya professor of occupational and public health Prof Dr Victor Hoe said that when Covid-19 becomes endemic, it is constantly present in the community, just like the flu, where we need to figure out how to live with the virus.
“To live with the virus, the SOP needs to be adapted based on the prevalence of the virus in the community and the percentage of people who have received the vaccine.
“We also need to understand the risk of transmission, as the virus can be transmitted via airborne means, with those infected showing no symptoms,” he said.
Looking at the situation in the UK and the US, Dr Hoe said reopening the economy must be based on a balance between risk and benefit, and whether our healthcare system has the capacity to handle an upsurge in the number of cases.
“It is always good to have hindsight and learn from others’ experiences and failures. But more importantly, whatever we do or plan should be based on applicability for our local settings.
“Each country has different needs. We must balance between the risk and benefit of any intervention that we plan to do,” he said.
With the low vaccination rate and high prevalence of the disease in the community, Dr Hoe said Malaysia should not consider loosening some restrictions for those who have been fully vaccinated.
“We need to first reduce the transmission in the community before we make any changes to the current SOP.
“We can allow activities that do not need a person to remove their face mask to resume.
“However, they still need to abide by the SOP,” he said, adding that vaccination still formed a very important part of the mitigation measures now.
He said all Covid-19 vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation were effective in lowering patients’ symptoms, hospitalisation and death.
“It is still crucial that everyone gets vaccinated. If more people are vaccinated, it will reduce the burden on the healthcare system,” he added.