KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 – Khairy Jamaluddin told the World Health Organization (WHO) that extended lockdowns and border controls are no longer viable in the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The health minister said vaccines, vigilance, and community empowerment instead would be crucial in managing coronavirus outbreaks, although he also cautioned the world against assuming that Omicron, reported to be a more contagious but milder variant than Delta, would end the pandemic.
“While the world is tired from the stop-start-stop-start dance we have all been doing, we should also not assume that letting Omicron rip will bring about an endgame and not leave in its wake much death and damage,” Khairy said in a speech yesterday at the 150th WHO executive board meeting in Geneva.
“Malaysia has tried to respond in a calibrated and proportionate manner. We have implemented mitigation strategies to contain the pandemic while slowing down the impending Omicron wave without imposing harsh restrictions nor overwhelming our health care system.
“As we move forward, sometimes with different strategies, a normative consensus on how we all ‘live with Covid-19’ is necessary.”
The Malaysian government has yet to formally declare the country’s transition into the endemic phase of living with Covid-19 as a disease that will persist for the foreseeable future. Covid-19 was first reported in Malaysia exactly two years ago on January 25, 2020.
Khairy yesterday separately tweeted that the Ministry of Health (MOH) expects Covid-19 cases to rise further as Omicron begins to compete with Delta for dominance in Malaysia.
He said key indicators to watch out for are admissions to hospital or the intensive care unit (ICU). According to the CovidNow website, although daily coronavirus infections were trending upward the past week, with a seven-day average of 3,500 cases, hospital and ICU admissions have been declining.
Despite Khairy’s remarks, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob reportedly said that the government targeted below 1,000 daily Covid-19 cases before entering the “endemic” phase. He also cited the possibility of imposing enhanced movement control orders (EMCO), an extremely strict lockdown, on residences that report a surge of infections.
Khairy also told the WHO that the rise of the extremely transmissible Omicron has underlined the “urgent” need to ensure equitable distribution and access to vaccines, genome sequencing, and treatments.
“Without resolving this great failing of humanity, it is likely that more variants can emerge as the virus spreads through vast segments of the world’s population who are still unvaccinated.”
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his opening remarks at the 150th WHO executive board meeting that the global health body aims to vaccinate 70 per cent of every country by the middle of the year. He noted, however, that 85 per cent of the African population has yet to receive even a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Eighty-six countries across all regions could not reach last year’s target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations, while 34 nations – most of them in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region – have not been able to inoculate even 10 per cent of their populations against Covid-19.
“How can this be acceptable to any of us? We simply cannot end the emergency phase of the pandemic unless we bridge this gap,” Dr Tedros said, adding that global Covid-19 vaccine sharing programme COVAX delivered its one billionth dose a week ago.
Malaysia has administered third vaccine doses or boosters to about a third of its total population. Nearly 80 per cent of the Malaysian population is fully vaccinated.
The government is also gearing up to vaccinate children aged below 12 years from February 3, offering Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine in the paediatric inoculation programme at an eight-week interval between two doses.
Khairy said the Malaysian government works through public-private partnerships and with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to ensure that everyone living in the country, including non-nationals, have access to Covid-19 vaccines without charge.
He also highlighted comprehensive datasets on the Covid-19 epidemic and vaccination that are published by MOH daily, including anonymised line-listed details of each positive case.
“Malaysia’s data is shared so other countries can see actual world data on vaccine effectiveness, breakthrough infections and deaths based on vaccine types, when the vaccines were administered, and other critical anonymised personal data like age, and underlying health conditions.
“Through this, evidence-based information is conveyed to the public to reduce misinformation and also increase vaccination uptake.”