KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 – Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has set a target of recording under 1,000 Covid-19 cases daily for Malaysia to declare the disease as endemic.
Ismail Sabri said while new travel restrictions will not be imposed during the Aidilfitri festivities in May this year amid an uptrend in daily Covid-19 cases over the past week, strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the Johor state election will be reviewed and enforced to limit the spread of Omicron during the polls.
“We cannot be complacent, and need to continue to curb (Covid-19 transmission), even if we say we need to live with Covid-19 in the future. We hope that cases continue to drop to below 1,000 so that we can declare Malaysia as endemic, not pandemic,” Ismail Sabri told reporters in Bera, Pahang, yesterday, according to state news agency Bernama.
Ismail Sabri, however, said that targeted enhanced movement control orders (EMCO) will be used in the event of an increase in Covid-19 cases in certain localities.
“Please don’t worry, we will not shut down the whole country, states or districts again. We will focus on targeted areas identified with a lot of infections by enforcing EMCO. If the village is subject to EMCO, only those from that village will be disallowed from travelling,” Ismail said.
The announcement comes just days after Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said that Omicron will surpass Delta as the primary Covid-19 variant of concern, as nine out of 10 coronavirus cases arriving in Malaysia were Omicron infections.
In a press conference earlier this year, Khairy told reporters to refrain from using the ‘L’ word (lockdown) as the government intends to avoid imposing total lockdowns as part of its virus containment strategy.
Khairy had then said the MOH projects Covid-19 cases to increase between February and March as Omicron becomes prevalent, although the new wave of infections will unlikely overwhelm the country’s health care system as with the Delta variant last year.
He said the recent rise in new Covid-19 cases has not resulted in a corresponding increase in hospitalisations, deaths, or admission to intensive care units (ICUs) — indicators which Khairy have repeatedly stressed the MOH will use, instead of infections, to determine when the nation can transition into living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease.
According to the CovidNow website, average daily Covid-19 cases have been on the uptrend during the past week, rising from 3,010 new cases on January 16 to 4,116 cases on January 22. However, hospital admissions continue to plateau, with overall bed utilisation at public hospitals, including for non-Covid cases, at 64 per cent.
Senior Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein last week said the government will declare the exact endemic phase transition date once the country is able to effectively manage the spread of Omicron among overseas returnees, including umrah pilgrims, and the recent floods that affected several states.