KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 25 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) today reported 45 new Omicron cases imported from abroad, including in 30 travellers who returned from Saudi Arabia after performing their Umrah pilgrimage.
The 45 – which were identified from 145 positive Covid-19 samples among international travellers between December 15 and 21 – are in addition to the three imported Omicron cases and one suspected local infection reported by the Sarawak state government yesterday, leading to a total of 49 new Omicron cases in Malaysia reported from December 23 to 24.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said authorities found that a large number of these 30 Muslim Umrah travellers infected with Omicron – a highly contagious virus with a reported doubling time of 1.5 to 2.5 days – violated home quarantine orders upon returning to Malaysia from Saudi Arabia, as they did not self-isolate and instead interacted with their family members and even received visitors.
“Maybe some want to salam and ambil berkat (receive blessings), but in the end, salam ambil Omicron,” Khairy told a virtual press conference today.
“So I hope people will follow [home surveillance orders]. This is serious. We gave the facility of home quarantine because when we decided to manage and live with Covid-19, we wanted to make things simple. No need to send to quarantine stations or hotels that swallow a large expense. We allow home quarantine, but please follow it, self-isolate.”
These 30 Omicron cases imported from Saudi Arabia were registered in multiple states: Selangor (11), Kuala Lumpur (four), Kedah (two), Pahang (four), Perlis (two), Johor (two), Penang (two), and one each in Melaka, Perak, and Terengganu.
Besides the 30 Omicron cases imported from Saudi Arabia, the remaining 18 imported infections of the new variant came from the United Kingdom (five), Qatar (four), the United States (three), Nigeria (two), and one each from Turkey, Italy, UAE, and Ghana.
Khairy pointed out that Omicron is a highly transmissible coronavirus variant, as infected international travellers test negative on pre-departure, but test positive for Covid-19 within 72 hours upon arrival in Malaysia.
Interacting with family members at home, instead of self-isolating in a room, could cause further transmission of Covid-19 as these non-quarantined family members could get infected and later spread the virus unknowingly when they go outside before testing positive.
He also said Saudi Arabia would be placed next Monday on the list of high-risk countries, totalling 10 now. The 10 countries are the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark, Australia, France, Norway, Canada, India, and Nigeria.
Travellers returning from high-risk countries are required to undergo home quarantine for either seven days (for the fully vaccinated) or 10 days (not fully vaccinated), wear a digital tracking device during quarantine, and self-test for Covid every day.
“Those who return from Saudi Arabia next week, we will request that they wear a digital tracker to ensure that they follow [home surveillance orders] and stay home. The second piece of advice, which we can’t enforce unfortunately, is please don’t leave your room and interact with your family members, and please don’t receive visitors from your relatives and the like who want to ambil berkat. Please wait until you finish your quarantine, then you can receive visitors from your friends and family.”
Khairy recommended that those planning to go overseas, including Umrah travellers, should get their Covid-19 booster jabs first, especially the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.
The health minister said he would announce next week a shorter interval period for boosters. Currently, Pfizer and AstraZeneca recipients are only eligible for their third Covid-19 vaccine dose six months from their second dose. Those initially vaccinated with Sinovac can receive their third jab three months after the second dose.