Extend international travel ban, expert says


TRAVELLING amid the emergence of the Omicron variant would not be wise despite the government’s plan to lift international travel next year, said Kasih Cyberjaya Hospital general health and occupational health specialist Dr Hanafiah Bashirun.

Malaysia currently bans travellers from eight African countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

However, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar might consider extending the ban to other countries where the variant has been detected such as the UK and the Netherlands.

Dr Hanafiah told The Malaysian Reserve that the ban on international travel should be continued, depending on the development of the latest Covid-19 variant.

“As for now, not much is known about the new variant in terms of its incubation period and how deadly it is,” he said, adding that the Health Ministry and the National Security Council should stick with the current standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“They should ban individuals from going to the above-mentioned countries, while those coming into Malaysia should fully quarantine for 10 days in designated areas.

“We cannot allow the 14-day quarantine at home for them,” Dr Hanafiah said.

He also urged authorities to not only focus on air travel, but also strengthen control at the water borders so that illegal immigrants who could possibly be carrying the variant would not be able to enter.

Recently, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the government has decided to delay the country’s transition into the endemic phase as there is too much uncertainty regarding the recent spread of the Omicron variant.

Dr Hanafiah supported this, saying if Malaysia enters the endemic phase, people would grow careless and disregard the SOPs that they have been strictly obliging to.

He mentioned the latest football match as proof that the public had failed to adhere to the SOPs.

“If Omicron penetrates into the country while we are complacent with the SOPs, we would see how fast it could spread and how bad it would be,” TMR was told.

Dr Hanafiah warned that if Omicron does enter the country, Malaysians could forget about celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Chinese New Year for the third consecutive year, with the possibility of the lockdown returning.

How long the travel ban should continue also depends on how much experts learn about the new variant, how effective the current vaccines are and how soon scientists can come up with an antiviral.

“I also hope that Malaysia focuses on the research and development of antivirals rather than just focusing on vaccines,” he said.

Even with booster shots, Dr Hanafiah said the vaccines may not protect against the Omicron variant.

“Let’s say the booster vaccines are made compulsory, it cannot prevent or give an extra boost of antibody towards the infection of Omicron.

“From what we understand is that the current vaccines do not really help with the Omicron variant,” he concluded.