by AZREEN HANI / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
THE government should delay the relaxing of restrictions for the fully vaccinated until cases are significantly reduced as Malaysia remains “inadequately vaccinated”, according to health experts.
“We believe that these relaxed restrictions are premature and can be dangerous. We propose postponing the relaxation to a time determined by a clear set of publicised criteria,” Malaysia Health Coalition (MHC) said in a statement yesterday.
The coalition of medical experts added that at the moment, only 27% of the population of all ages were fully vaccinated, and this excludes undocumented migrants.
“Chile only relaxed restrictions after 50% coverage, and Singapore is targeting relaxed restrictions at 70% coverage,” MHC added.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin announced that among the restrictions being lifted for fully vaccinated individuals who reside in states under Phase 2 and above of the National Recovery Plan (NRP), include dine-ins, inter-district travel, sports and recreational activities without physical contact as well as tourism activities within the state involving homestays and hotels.
“In allowing the relaxation, the government will also ensure public health strategic plans, which are now on the right track, continue to be implemented, especially through screenings, close contact detection, isolation measures, as well as improving healthcare capacity and treatment options,” he said.
MHC, however, stated that scientific and public health criteria for relaxation must be built by health experts without interference.
“They can include ‘fully vaccinated rate ≥70% of the total population, total critical care bed occupancy rate for Covid-19 of ≤90%, total daily new cases ≤4000 with share of positive tests ≤5%’ and other criteria. These criteria must be publicised so that any future decisions will be solely based on evidence,” MHC explained.
Additionally, the coalition said the government should clarify the specifics of these relaxed restrictions, because blanket vaccine privileges will create loopholes that will impede NRP.
“For example, the government must answer questions like: What is the rationale to allow home quarantine for vaccinated travellers, how long is the quarantine and how will we monitor? How do we close the loopholes that may allow ‘inter-state vacations on the pretext of visiting our children?’” it said.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said the decision to relax restrictions must be supported with sufficient scientific evidence.
“If it is indeed a decision based on science, why then is travel allowed for those wishing to see their spouse or their young children? Either it’s sufficiently safe for the fully vaccinated to travel, in which case all vaccinated individuals should be allowed to do so, or it is not, in which nobody should travel,” he said.
He noted that some of those states in Phase 2 are showing an increasing trend in Covid-19 cases.
“The government should stop its hyping up on the total number of cases. What is important are hospital bed utilisation and the intensive care units (ICUs) situation in the country,” Dr Subramaniam said.
“Going forward, we hope that the government will provide an update on the positivity rate and the status of bed utilisation and ICUs in each state as these will be more meaningful indicators apart from the daily new cases. It is important that the public be kept informed of the bed capacity and ICUs status in their respective state,” he added.
MMA also said that the lifting of restrictions must also take into account high-risk groups such as nursing homes, factory and construction workers, security guards, cleaners, medical students and undocumented migrant workers that have not been vaccinated.