Govt lifts temporary travel restrictions on 8 countries, namely South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi
by FAYYADH JAAFAR / pic by TMR FILE
COVID-19 booster vaccines are showing their effectiveness in preventing the spread of the virus.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar (picture) said this is based on data from clinical studies and real-world studies, such as The Real-World Evaluation of Covid-19 Vaccines under the Malaysia National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme.
“The Omicron variant has shown higher viral-binding affinity and antibody escape than vaccine-induced immunity or natural infections,” he said at a press conference yesterday.
As he went on to explain, there is substantial evidence that has accumulated over the past three weeks that the Covid-19 booster vaccine is likely to provide increased protection against Omicron-variant infections.
“Preliminary studies involving 21 million booster doses conducted in the UK have shown very convincing safety data,” he added.
As he urged the public to get their booster doses, Khairy pointed out that regulatory bodies in countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia, as well as a panel of health experts, now recommend that the time interval for booster dose vaccination can be as short as three months after receiving the primary vaccine.
In Malaysia, the administration of booster doses was officially launched nationwide on Oct 23, 2021, after taking into consideration the recommendations of the panel of physicians in the country.
Over the past two months, he also claimed that the number of Covid-19 cases reported in Sarawak has been on the decline.
There have been fewer than a thousand cases reported every week since the 48th Epidemiology Week (ME), compared to the 52nd ME, which had a total of 208 cases.
There are currently 5.58 million people nationwide, or 23.8% of the adult population, who have received their booster shots.
The number of Covid-19 cases reported, hospital admissions and cases requiring intensive care has decreased, including even deaths from 497 in October to 24 as of Dec 28, 2021. There has also been a lower number of patients being treated in the intensive care unit, from as many as 99 on Nov 5, 2021, to just 11 on Dec 26, 2021.
“This decrease is in line with the increase in coverage of the vaccine booster dose and third dose in Sarawak.
“No serious adverse events following immunisation have been reported, indicating that heterologous use of this vaccine is safe,” Khairy said.
It is expected to be announced in January when the booster appointments will be made available. Seniors 60 years and older, as well as those suffering from medical conditions, will be given first priority, according to Khairy.
He also said the Institute of Medical Research has conducted a PCR Genotyping Assay on 366 samples of Covid-19 positive cases among travellers from Dec 21 to 25, 2021, where a total of 306 people have indicated a probable (presumptive) Omicron variant and are currently awaiting full sequence test results.
Khairy also announced that the government will lift the temporary travel restrictions on the eight countries where the Omicron variant supposedly originated, namely South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.
“Since Omicron has been detected beyond those countries, it does not make sense to keep the current restriction in place.
“We are moving them from a total travel ban to classifying the countries as high-risk countries,” he said.
Currently, there are 18 countries listed as “Omicron Variant High Countries”, which include the nations mentioned above, as well as the US, the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Norway, France, Denmark, India, Canada and Nigeria.
Additionally, the minister said the government intends to take a more stringent disciplinary approach on individuals violating the home quarantine order among Covid-19 positive cases.
“According to MySejahtera data, 1.4% of Covid-19 positive cases who were granted a Surveillance and Observation Order had violated the quarantine order between Dec 1 and 28, 2021.
“While we would prefer not to take punitive measures against the violators, we must maintain a firm stance on the issue.”
He clarified that those who violated the law will be subject to a RM1,000 fine if they are found guilty.