Sunday, January 23, 2022

Transition to endemic phase on hold due to Omicron, says Hishammuddin

He says precautionary measures will continue to be implemented in the country.

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Efforts to transition to the endemic phase have been paused for a while as the government looks to find out more about the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, which is said to be more contagious than the Delta variant.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the government noted that as of now, the variant had not only spread in South Africa, but also to several other countries including Italy, Denmark, Australia, the UK, Belgium and Hong Kong.

“Although we have not heard of any cases in our country to date, precautionary actions will continue to be implemented.

“We are concerned that everything that we planned before this, the announcements on the relaxation of SOPs, the seven criteria that we hoped to announce in the near future on the endemic phase, all this may be affected if we do not monitor the spread of Omicron more closely,” he said at a press conference after the Covid-19 Ministerial Quartet Meeting at the Parliament building today.

The government previously set seven criteria that need to be achieved before the health ministry can declare Malaysia as entering the endemic phase of living with the Covid-19 virus.

This includes the number of beds being utilised in hospitals, low-risk quarantine and treatment centres; testing capacity at laboratories; and the rate of positive cases.

Hishammuddin said the health ministry is also seeking more information on the incubation period, symptoms and infectiousness of the Omicron variant, and would make an announcement on the matter soon.

In the meantime, he said the government would impose stricter border controls on countries where the new variant is prevalent.

Commenting on South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for the lifting of travel restrictions on the country, Hishammuddin said the decision was based on security risks and advice from the health ministry.

“What the health ministry has decided is not too different from what has been done by other countries out there. I believe the African countries understand that it is not related to diplomacy or geopolitics, but about health.

“We do not want to jeopardise what we have been doing for one and a half years with irresponsible actions,” he said.

Ramaphosa yesterday urged countries around the world to immediately lift their bans on travelling to the country, which he described as “unjustified and unfair”.

Meanwhile, on the risk of reopening the Malaysia-Singapore border via the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) following the spread of the new variant, Hishammuddin said it was being monitored.

“The quartet meeting took note of the discussions between the two prime ministers (Malaysia and Singapore) on the potential of having more destinations (with the VTL implemented), such as Singapore to Penang, Langkawi, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

“I have asked all parties to continue thinking and discussing, but we will not make a decision until we know the real effects and impact of this new variant,” he said.

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