Khairy: Umrah Pilgrims From Saudi Single Biggest Source Of Imported Covid-19 Cases

KJ says 928 of 1,220 presumptive Omicron cases from international arrivals in Dec 2021 are returnees from Saudi Arabia. In the last week of Dec, 1,558 of 1,842 positive Covid-19 cases detected on arrival in KLIA were travellers from Saudi Arabia.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 – Khairy Jamaluddin today explained that the government’s Covid-19 measures targeting Umrah pilgrims were due to this group forming the single largest source of imported infections, including Omicron.

The health minister pointed out that of the 245 total confirmed Omicron cases in Malaysia as of today, 64 per cent, or 157 cases, were Umrah pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia. A total of 233 confirmed infections of the new coronavirus variant are imported cases, while 12 were locally transmitted.

The Institute for Medical Research’s (IMR) PCR genotyping assay on 1,774 positive Covid-19 cases among international arrivals returning to Malaysia in December flagged presumptive Omicron in 1,220 cases, or 69 per cent.

About 76 per cent of these 1,220 presumptive Omicron cases, or 928 infections, were returnees from Saudi Arabia.

Khairy also pointed out that in the 52nd epidemiological week of 2021, or the last week of the year, 1,842 Covid-19 cases were detected at the international gates at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). About 85 per cent, or 1,558 cases, were travellers returning from Saudi Arabia.

The origin country with the second highest number of imported cases was Turkey (84), followed by UAE (50) and the United Kingdom (47).

“The data is clear. The single biggest source of imported cases, Omicron and otherwise, comes from Saudi Arabia and from Umrah pilgrims,” Khairy told a press conference today.

“If the data shows that most cases come from London, then we’ll impose restrictions on London, quarantine restrictions on London. If Timbuktu, Timbuktu. If Hawaii, Hawaii. But the data is clearly showing us it’s coming from one particular source. 

“So if the Ministry of Health (MOH) doesn’t act on this data, then we will not be able to slow the Omicron wave that will surely come, which we’re trying to slow as much as possible.” 

Unvaccinated Omicron imported cases in Malaysia according to the country of infection, as of January 4, 2022. Graphic from the Ministry of Health.

The government has suspended travel to Saudi Arabia for the minor Umrah pilgrimage from January 8, besides enforcing quarantine at designated stations for returning pilgrims. 

Khairy said Umrah pilgrims have the option of bearing the cost of their seven-day quarantine at hotels or to undergo isolation at government-funded public quarantine stations.

He also highlighted that 14 per cent of 122 Omicron cases reported as of January 4, or 17 imported cases, were not vaccinated against Covid-19.

The 17 unvaccinated travellers infected with Omicron comprised four each from the United Kingdom, Nigeria, and UAE, as well as one each from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Australia, Ghana, and Ireland.

Keratong 5 Saudi Cluster In Rompin And Mersing

Of 91 Umrah pilgrims, 55 tested positive for Covid-19 and were instructed to quarantine at a hotel in Saudi Arabia, but their 36 close contacts in the same tour group were permitted to fly back to Malaysia. Twenty-four of them later tested positive for Covid-19, including four presumptive Omicron cases. The 24 cases underwent home quarantine in Selangor, Terengganu, Kelantan, Johor, and Putrajaya. Graphic by the Ministry of Health.

Khairy highlighted an “extremely worrying” incident where of 91 Umrah pilgrims from a certain travel agency, 55 tested positive for Covid-19 during their pre-departure test in Saudi Arabia before their flights back to Malaysia. They were isolated in a hotel in Saudi Arabia.

However, 36 travellers on the same tour package, who were close contacts of these positive coronavirus cases, were permitted to get on the plane and return to Malaysia. Twenty-four of them later tested positive for Covid-19 when they returned to Malaysia, including four presumptive Omicron cases.

The 24 positive Covid-19 cases underwent home quarantine in Selangor (eight), Terengganu (eight), Kelantan (six), Johor (one), and Putrajaya (one).

The Keratong 5 Saudi Covid-19 cluster — with two index cases who returned from Saudi Arabia in Rompin, Pahang, one of whom is positive for Omicron — has led to three generations of spread with a total of 29 positive Covid-19 cases in the cluster as of January 5, 2022, including cases in Mersing, Johor.

Khairy also raised a Covid-19 cluster in Rompin, Pahang, that was linked to two Malaysian index cases aged between 69 and 74 years who had returned from Saudi Arabia and tested positive between December 26 and 29 last year, one of whom was confirmed to be infected with Omicron.

The Keratong 5 Saudi cluster has spread to three generations of contacts, with 27 confirmed Covid-19 cases to date, among the two index cases’ family members in not just Rompin but also Mersing, Johor. The infected cases ranged from the age of two years to 65 years. 

All of the 29 positive cases reported in the cluster as of yesterday were asymptomatic or mild in Categories One or Two. 

Umrah Pilgrims: More Than 2,600 Positive Covid-19 Cases Detected Day One, Day Five 

Positive Covid-19 cases among Umrah pilgrims returning to Malaysia detected November 25, 2021 to January 5, 2022, based on positive test results on Day One on arrival and Day Five during quarantine. Graphic from the Ministry of Health.

Khairy also pointed out that among Umrah pilgrims who tested positive for Covid-19 between December 1 last year and January 5 this year, 1,380 tested positive on Day One upon arrival in Malaysia, while another 1,311 people tested positive for the virus on Day Five during quarantine.

According to a slide shared by Khairy, 50.5 per cent of Umrah pilgrims tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in Malaysia, based on data collated on infected Umrah pilgrims from November 25, 2021 to January 5 this year.

“Usually, the number of positive tests on Day One and Day Five shouldn’t be that high, since they did pre-departure testing before departing to Malaysia. There are some cases when they do a pre-departure test two days before departure and they later get infected with Covid before departure or on their flight,” he explained.

However, the huge number of 2,691 people only testing positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in Malaysia or subsequently during quarantine shows that pre-departure testing cannot sufficiently detect the virus. 

“If we didn’t make the decision to quarantine and to delay cases, then we would see a much bigger Omicron wave.”

Seven New Local Omicron Cases In Sarawak

Khairy also reported 44 new imported Omicron cases today, 29 of which were from Saudi Arabia, plus seven local Omicron cases in Sarawak. IMR additionally confirmed 72 new Omicron cases, 59 of which were imported from Saudi Arabia.

The total 123 new Omicron cases reported today brings the cumulative variant cases to 245, from 122 reported as of January 4.

The seven new community Omicron cases in Sarawak involved two separate families and one individual case. 

The first family, with four confirmed Omicron cases, involved a man and two of his children who all tested positive for Covid-19 upon returning to Sarawak after vacationing in Kedah and Penang last month. The mother of the two children is categorised as presumptive Omicron pending genome sequencing.

When the four returned to Sarawak, they infected the grandmother of the two children with Omicron.

The second family comprised two confirmed Omicron cases, one of whom was screened at a private clinic due to fever and was later confirmed to be infected with the variant. The father of the case, a close contact, also tested positive for Omicron. Both cases did not have international travel history during their incubation period or were exposed to positive Omicron cases.

A separate case of an individual who contracted Omicron had gotten screened for Covid-19 before returning to their country of work. The case did not have international travel history during their incubation period. This has been classified as a local case with the source of infection yet to be identified.

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