Public urged to maintain SOPs in endemic phase

How often we should get tested for Covid-19 depends on how often we participate in social activities

by AZALEA AZUAR / pic by TMR FILE

MEDICAL experts are advising Malaysians to continue following the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) as the country enters the endemic phase.

According to Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar, despite having been completely vaccinated, people must continue to follow the SOPs whenever they go out such as observing physical distancing and avoiding crowded places.

However, he said, conducting regular tests is not necessary unless an individual is going on domestic tourism or in close contact with a person suspected of having Covid-19.

Regardless, Dr Zainal opined that the price of self-test kits should be reduced, so everyone can store kits at home in the event they are needed.

“It should be lowered either through subsidy or any other means by the government as soon as possible as the self-test kits have become a necessity,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

He also said focus should not only be given to daily cases, but also to new variants, community clusters, bed usage in intensive care units (ICUs), brought-in-dead cases and the rate of unvaccinated individuals.

“I think we still have around 20% to 30% of unvaccinated people, plus adolescents between 12 and 17 years old who have been allowed to get vaccinated.

“Then there are anti-vaxxers and those still hesitant towards the vaccine, and with the emergence of the new Delta variant, a new wave is still possible, especially if we become complacent with the SOPs.”

Meanwhile, Kasih Cyberjaya Hospital general health and occupational health specialist Dr Hanafiah Bashirun said as we enter the endemic phase, we must keep in mind that Covid-19 is still around regardless of what we do.

“It has not gone away, therefore the SOPs are also here to stay especially wearing face masks, social distancing and frequently washing our hands with water and soap or hand sanitisers,” he told TMR.

He said the biggest challenge entering the endemic phase would be maintaining SOPs since restrictions are loosened, making people think that the virus is no longer a threat.

“I just hope that we can all help the Health Ministry (MoH) bring down the number of cases, especially those in Categories Three, Four and Five.”

Dr Hanafiah also stressed that it is important to be transparent with the public regarding how vaccines work as many still have the misconceptions that after being fully vaccinated, they do not need to adhere to the SOPs.

“Although you have been vaccinated, it does not mean that you are invincible. You can still get infected, but with lesser complications, and can pass the virus to others. This is what we need to make people understand.”

Dr Hanafiah noted that the number of ICU admissions and Categories Three, Four and Five cases has declined, especially in the Klang Valley.

How often we should get tested for Covid-19, he said, depends on how often we participate in social activities.

Prof Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman from the International Medical University expects to see an increasing number of people getting vaccinated.

He said vaccination is key as the country transitions to the endemic stage as studies from all over the world revealed that Covid-19 vaccines have managed to bring down the number of serious infections.

Being endemic means that the level of infections are acceptable and manageable where it does not result in a major public health problem.

It is influenced by several factors such as the strength and duration of people’s immune protection, transmissibility of the virus itself, healthcare capacities to manage the infection and the public health interventions that are put in place.

“It is also dependent on people’s behaviour — how they conduct themselves will either spread the infection or keep it in check.

“Just as we can move into the endemic stage, we can also as easily go back into an epidemic or pandemic status,” he warned.

When New Zealand managed to beat the virus, Lokman said it was due to public responsibility where the entire population strictly obeyed the SOPs.

“In an endemic state, what we are looking for is public responsibility to help manage the disease.

“The public must continue to be educated on the importance of risk assessment and management, so that they will take appropriate action to minimise the risk of being infected and infecting others,” said Lokman, adding that with lockdowns relaxed, the healthcare system needs to be strengthened.

With interstate travel to be allowed soon as Malaysia enters the endemic phase, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar said on Twitter that only 1.6% of the population is left to be vaccinated before interstate borders open.

“While the MoH has transitioned to symptomatic testing, we encourage people who are in high contact and mobility settings to test regularly. If you want to ‘balik kampung’ to see elderly parents, do an RTK saliva test. Keep them safe,” he tweeted.