MOH: Relax Covid-19 Rules Only After High Vaccination Coverage

Health deputy DG Dr Hishamshah points out that the UK, US, and Israel saw a rise of Covid-19 cases despite high vaccination rates.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 6 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) today urged caution on lifting movement restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals, saying this should only be done after the majority have received Covid-19 vaccines.

Health deputy director-general (research and technical support) Dr Hishamshah Mohd Ibrahim pointed out that countries with high vaccination rates like the United Kingdom, the United States, and Israel saw an increase in Covid-19 cases after allowing social activities to resume. 

“In hindsight, when you look at their decisions, the privileges were given too early,” Dr Hishamshah told a press conference today. 

While daily new Covid-19 cases in the UK began rising from late May, the UK’s epidemic peaked on July 21 — two days after England’s “Freedom Day” of loosening Covid-19 rules — and infections have fallen since, defying dire predictions from scientists. 

The US, in contrast, with different levels of movement restrictions across states, is now seeing a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases since early July, which American health officials are dubbing as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”. According to global data tracker Our World In Data, Israel has fully vaccinated 62 per cent of its population as of August 4, followed by the UK’s 57 per cent and the US’ 49 per cent.

“So we must learn from the experiences of other countries. Although those who are double vaccinated are somewhat protected from serious Covid-19, we do not have to do this [lifting movement restrictions] hastily,” said Dr Hishamshah.

“The Ministry of Health takes a cautious approach and at the moment, this is being discussed at the highest levels — what kind of privileges can be extended to people who are fully vaccinated with two doses.”

He listed two conditions before fully vaccinated individuals can be exempted from certain restrictions.

“The first is that we must have a high vaccination rate, at least 80 per cent; if it’s more than 50 per cent, 40 per cent, good. The vaccination coverage must be high so that we don’t see a surge of cases,” said Dr Hishamshah.

“The second is that certain SOPs (standard operating procedures) must still continue to be complied with because the variants now are more transmissible and infectious. So we must still continue to wear face masks, practise physical distancing, and refrain from gathering in large groups. There must still be SOPs.”

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reportedly said Tuesday that he would soon announce easing of movement restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals.

As of yesterday, only 24.5 per cent of Malaysia’s total population has been fully inoculated. In terms of the adult population, just over a third, or 34.2 per cent, have received double doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Malaysia has not yet started vaccinating minors below the age of 18.

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