Khairy: Endemic Covid-19 Far Away, Social Curbs May Return

Khairy Jamaluddin says some social activities will be restricted once ICU capacity passes a certain point.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has warned Malaysians that movement restrictions in the social sector will be reimposed if sick Covid-19 cases overrun hospitals.

He also said the transition to endemicity — or a phase of living with the virus without overwhelming the health care system — would take a “long, long time”.

“We’re nowhere near that right now. If any countries feel they can declare victory, they’re sorely mistaken,” Khairy told the virtual Global Town Hall 2021 organised by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia last Saturday.

He added that Malaysia is currently using the breathing space afforded from a decline in Covid-19 cases to plan public health responses to a simulated fourth wave of the epidemic.

“The greatest nightmare a health minister has is, of course, hospital capacity, especially critical care capacity, ICU (intensive care unit) capacity. Once it breaches a certain point, then red flags are raised and we need to have a heightened alert system and we need to step down on certain social activities.”

Khairy told the press in Rembau yesterday that the government would not impose a total lockdown, but that some movement restrictions would be imposed through the “heightened alert system” if Covid-19 infections went up.

Daily new Covid-19 infections and hospital admissions have been slowly rising in Malaysia over the past two weeks. ICU utilisation is particularly high in the Klang Valley at about 82 per cent and Negeri Sembilan at 93 per cent, according to the CovidNow website.

CodeBlue reported last Friday that Klang Valley hospitals are bracing for a potential Covid-19 surge.

Khairy also stressed the need to continue non-pharmaceutical interventions like mask-wearing and social distancing to control the Covid-19 pandemic despite high vaccine coverage.

“It’s the non-pharmaceutical interventions, it’s your test, trace, isolate and support, FTTIS infrastructure, so that you can contain the spread, look after people who have their home quarantine. You can trace people quickly with new technology or traditional contact tracing. These are things that we moved at the start of last year, but we must continue onwards as well,” the health minister said.

A systematic review and meta-analysis on 35 studies around the world on the effectiveness of public health measures in curbing Covid-19, published in the BMJ last Thursday, found that wearing face masks was 53 per cent effective in reducing Covid-19 incidence, the single most effective non-pharmaceutical intervention against the coronavirus.

Physical distancing cut Covid-19 incidence by 25 per cent. Handwashing suggested a 53 per cent decrease in Covid-19 incidence, but this was not statistically significant.

“With the new exciting antiviral therapies, these are things we should look at, seeing how it can be provided through voluntary licensing regimes so poorer countries have easier and cheaper access to them, add it to the arsenal of measures, and continue to strengthen public health care facilities,” Khairy added.

Malaysia has procured 150,000 treatment courses of a new Covid-19 antiviral medicine, molnupiravir, from Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) that is shown to halve the risk of hospitalisation for patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19.

Last Friday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended — ahead of formal authorisation — the use of the experimental pill in the European Union to treat adults with Covid-19 who do not need supplemental oxygen and who are at increased risk of severe disease.

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