Health experts say Malaysia prepared for new wave of Covid-19, emphasise civic duty

KUALA LUMPUR: Medical experts believe that the nation is prepared, yet underscored the pivotal role of civic duty in effectively addressing this new Covid-19 wave.

Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist and biostatistician Associate Professor Dr Malina Osman believes that the Health Ministry's (MOH) current measures are adequate.

"I think we have appropriate measures and preparations in place by MOH; with their experience from the pandemic in 2020 to 2022, we already have proper measures," she said when contacted by the New Straits Times.

Noting the recent spike of confirmed Covid-19-positive cases, Dr Malina said that is expected when there are no longer travel restrictions, especially with large movements and gatherings during the festive season.

Dr Malina, who previously served in the Health Ministry's Public Health Division, advocates for a sense of responsibility and self-discipline among all citizens as they fulfil their civic duty in ensuring community safety.

"Those who are sick should be responsible for wearing masks outdoors or better to just stay at home," she said.

Echoing Dr Malina, Professor Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar Universiti Malaya's (UM) virology expert said the best prevention is still avoidance and barriers.

"The public should take proactive steps to avoid getting infected. For example, staying away from congested places, avoiding contact with a person with symptoms and putting up barriers such as wearing masks," he said.

Based on MOH's website, almost 85 per cent of Malaysians have received at least two doses of their vaccine, and 50 per cent received an extra booster dose.

Dr Sazaly said that while most Malaysians who have received vaccination would only have mild infections, it does not rule out that a small number would develop severe symptoms.

"MOH needs to inform the public of the signs to look for so that those infected can seek immediate medical attention.

"Perhaps the number of trained healthcare providers needs to be increased to manage severe cases and increase the availability of working ventilators throughout the country," he said.

He suggested the public should do regular testing and rapid testing kits should be made readily available and widely accessible at affordable prices, best if covered by insurance or claimable for tax deduction.

"One of the issues right now is that most Malaysians are immunised, whether with boosters or previous infections. Hence, many would present with only mild symptoms when infected but remain infectious.

"Unless they take tests daily, they will not realise that they are infectious and therefore can transmit the virus to others," he said.

Monash University's molecular virologist, Associate Professor Dr Vinod Balasubramania, said it is made known that a highly transmissible JN.1 variant has marched into Malaysia. The number of reinfections and infections of the public is expected to be very high.

Dr Vinod said Malaysia will need to continue with effective measures as the nation brings transmission under control.

"We have the tools we used previously to fight Covid-19 at its peak in the last couple of years. It is time for public intervention to be implemented to reduce the number of severe cases.

"While the rise in the number of cases is expected, the number of cases with severe symptoms, hospitalisations and mortality can be reduced and stopped if we adhere to the recommendations.

"We know from the beginning vaccines alone will not end this pandemic, in part because of more transmissible new variants and also because vaccines are primarily designed to protect against severe disease and death," he said.

Dr Vinod said the role of the public in reducing the number of cases is vital in terms of not overburdening the hospitals.

"I think it will be pertinent to focus on mortality, number of cases with severe symptoms and severity, especially with the usage of ICU and ventilators," he said.

However, Dr Vinod stressed that with our hospitals still coping, there is no need to re-introduce lockdowns as in previous years.

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