KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 – Six clusters of the Omicron coronavirus variant, with index cases in Umrah pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, have been reported across the country in Selangor, Kedah, Penang, Johor, Pahang, and Sabah as of December 30.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said five clusters in Selangor, Kedah, Penang, Johor, and Pahang involved index cases that were confirmed to be infected with Omicron, while the cluster in Sabah involved a presumptive Omicron index case awaiting confirmation with whole genome sequencing (WGS).
One cluster with 10 Covid-19 cases so far spanned three states: Gombak district in Selangor, Yan and Kota Setar districts in Kedah, and Barat Daya district in Penang.
The second cluster was reported in Kubang Pasu and Yan in Kedah, a northern state in the peninsula, with four coronavirus cases.
The third cluster was reported in the southern peninsula in the Johor state capital of Johor Baru with six Covid-19 cases so far.
Two clusters with Omicron index cases were detected in Pahang: one in Temerloh with five cases and another in Temerloh and Pekan with six cases.
The cluster with a presumptive Omicron index case was found in Sandakan, Sabah, with 18 cases detected so far.
“As you can see, it has caused spread among close contacts. We don’t know to what extent it has resulted in community spread yet,” Khairy told a press conference on New Year’s Day today, adding that the Ministry of Health (MOH) will later announce if any of these cases in the Omicron clusters were hospitalised.
“Operationally, we’re assuming presumptive Omicron is already Omicron. But in terms of reporting, we still require WGS. For instance, today, in announcing counter measures against the Omicron spread from our Umrah pilgrims, we don’t need to wait for WGS. For KKM, we assume presumptive is Omicron.”
He said according to the Institute for Medical Research (IMR), there is almost 100 per cent certainty that cases flagged as presumptive Omicron from RT-PCR tests will be confirmed as the new variant from genome sequencing.
Khairy revealed that from October 13 last year, when the first batch of Muslim pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for their Umrah pilgrimage, until December 30, about 11.76 per cent of 11,108 Umrah pilgrims who returned to Malaysia were found to be positive for Covid-19 with 1,306 cases.
From 1,077 positive Covid-19 samples in international arrivals tested from December 21 to 29, about 90 per cent, or 966 cases, were presumptive Omicron. About 77.6 per cent of the 966 presumptive Omicron cases, or 750 samples, were from pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia.
Of the 64 confirmed Omicron cases in Malaysia reported as of yesterday, half, or 32 cases, were in Umrah pilgrims. Besides the six Omicron clusters involving Umrah pilgrims reported as of December 30, three more clusters were detected in Umrah pilgrims, whose index cases were not of the Omicron variant and are likely Delta.
In the past 14 days from the 51st to the 52nd epidemiological weeks, the highest number of imported Covid-19 cases were from Saudi Arabia at 1,161, compared to the United Kingdom (49), Singapore (13), and Indonesia (8). These 1,161 imported infections from Saudi Arabia in the past fortnight alone comprised 80 per cent of the 1,446 imported cases from that country detected from January 1 to December 30 last year.
“Many pilgrims who returned from Umrah applied to quarantine at home or their residence during the seven-day quarantine period. But when non-compliance to standard operating procedures (SOPs) occurred, positive Covid-19 cases among Umrah pilgrims caused the spread of infection among family members,” Khairy said.
“Non-compliance to quarantine procedures at home or residence also exposed family members, or visiting neighbours or relatives, to Covid-19 infection.”
The health minister noted that Umrah pilgrims could have been infected in Saudi Arabia but tested negative before departure back to Malaysia due to the incubation period of the virus.
“The number of arrivals of Malaysian Umrah pilgrims at between 800 and 1,000 daily (using four special flights) further increases the risk of imported Covid-19 cases and the Omicron variant into the country.”
Due to the high rate of Omicron reported in Umrah pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, the government has decided to suspend approvals for Umrah travel from January 8. Flight bookings for Umrah travel are suspended effective immediately from today.
For Umrah pilgrims who are scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia from today until January 7, they are allowed to continue their journey but must quarantine at a designated station upon their return to Malaysia.
Umrah pilgrims who return to Malaysia from January 3 will be required to self-isolate for seven days at a designated quarantine facility or at a hotel.
They must also get tested with RT-PCR two days before departure and on arrival, self-test with antigen rapid tests if symptomatic during quarantine, and get tested with RT-PCR on Day Five of quarantine. Umrah pilgrims will only be released from quarantine on Day Eight if there is no extension of quarantine and if the RT-PCR test on Day Five is negative.