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Govt must consider closing borders to avoid new Covid-19 wave: Expert

Govt must consider closing borders to avoid new Covid-19 wave: Expert

KUALA LUMPUR: The new and highly transmissible subvariants of the Covid-19 virus detected in several countries are causing much concern in Malaysia with the expected influx of tourists from China which opened its borders on Jan 8.

Mainland China is now facing a surge in infections caused by the BA.5.2 and BF.7 variants and according to media reports, nearly 90 percent of the people in Henan province – the country’s third most densely populated region – are currently down with Covid-19.

The United States and European countries are also seeing a hike in cases following the transmission of the Omicron XBB.1.5 strain known as Kraken which has the potential to trigger bigger waves of Covid-19 infections.

In Malaysia, various groups have urged the government to impose stricter standard operating procedures (SOP) on tourist arrivals.

On Jan 4, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said Malaysia would impose stricter SOP on all incoming travellers regardless of their country of origin as its priority is the people’s health and safety.

On Monday, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the prevailing SOP for the entry of foreign tourists at all international entry points will remain and any decision regarding new SOP will only be made based on the latest Covid-19 data.

Close nation’s borders?

Public health expert Dr Hanafiah Bashirun, however, feels the government should consider closing the nation’s international borders, saying that it is the best possible measure to contain the transmission of any new fast-spreading variant.

He said the government’s proposal to tighten Covid-19 screening at the various entry points will not guarantee the safety of the public and that it should heed the lessons learned in early 2020 when the government was forced to impose movement restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“Screening incoming tourists for Covid-19 is part of the existing control measures and it has been in place before this but I think it needs to be improved.

“The Health Minister must declare to the public what are the effective steps it is taking to prevent Covid-19-positive tourists from entering the country,” he told Bernama.

Dr Hanafiah added that the government should devise an effective mechanism to check the transmission of Covid-19 to ensure public safety and prevent any surge in cases that may force the government to reimpose movement restrictions.

“As of now, I have not seen any new initiative by the government in the event there is a spike in cases due to the presence of new Covid-19 variants in several countries including China,” he said, adding that people are worried case numbers may rise sharply and they may have to face another lockdown.

Still a threat to health

Universiti Malaysia Perlis Centre for Liberal Sciences lecturer Muhammad Izmer Yusof said although drastic measures have not been put in place since infections are still under control in this country, the government, nevertheless, continues to see the Covid-19 virus as a health threat.

He said the previous governments’ experience in handling Covid-19 will surely be taken into account when deciding on the appropriate action to contain the transmission of the virus.

“Malaysia’s infection trend is still on the low side of around 300 to 500 new cases daily. Previously, our nation had even recorded over 33,000 new cases daily, so the situation now is not as critical as it used to be,” he said.

Muhammad Izmer said the perception by some quarters that the new administration is not committed to addressing Covid-19 is inaccurate as the government will take aggressive steps based on certain indicators that were used previously when the cases became increasingly serious.

Pointing out that the enforcement of a movement control order is not the ultimate solution, he said early preventive measures are the best solutions to curbing infections.

These measures include imposing mask mandates, frequent washing of hands and taking the Covid-19 vaccine and booster doses.

“The government must provide regular updates on the Covid-19 situation and remind the people to take care of their health,” he added.

Commenting on the vaccine, Dr Hanafiah said in view of the low uptake of booster shots among Malaysians, the government must raise their confidence levels by carrying out a detailed study to prove the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine.

To date, 49.8 percent of the population have received the first booster dose while only 1.9 percent have received their second shot.

“We all know that this vaccine provides protection… even though vaccinated people can get Covid-19, it reduces the long-term effects of the infection,” he said, adding that the authorities concerned should find out why people who have taken the first two doses of the vaccine are not returning for the booster doses for further protection.

“Many adults are not taking the booster shots because they feel there’s no need for them to take it.”-Bernama