KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 3 – Malaysia is planning to scrap more of its Covid-19 restrictions amid rising cases due to Omicron, though the lifting of Covid rules will be gradual and exclude the removal of mask mandates.
In recent weeks, countries like England and Denmark have announced plans to lift all their domestic coronavirus restrictions, including the wearing of face masks, with Omicron not being a “a severe disease for the vaccinated”.
However, face coverings are still required in health and care settings, including hospitals, and on public transport. Covid passes are also not required for large events and at public venues, and people are no longer being advised to work from home.
In Denmark and across the United Kingdom, more than 80 per cent of the population have had two vaccinations and over 60 per cent have been given a booster dose, according to global data tracker Our World in Data.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said Malaysia will also consider easing certain restrictions but the move will be done in a “targeted, calibrated, and proportionate” manner instead of all in one go.
“Our approach to reopening the economy is that it will be targeted, calibrated, and proportionate. From the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) point of view, we are not subscribed to the ‘re-open everything at once’ school of thought.
“Although we have utmost conviction in the vaccination programme, we are still adopting a more cautious approach and will re-open in stages. But I’m confident with the paediatric Covid-19 inoculation programme (PICKids) and the booster dose programme, which is increasingly reassuring, we can ease more restrictions.
“Some of the things you (CodeBlue) mentioned earlier, we will bring into the quartet meeting for discussion. But I can tell you, as far as Malaysia is concerned, face masks will stay for the foreseeable future.
“We are still, at MOH, not willing to compromise as far as public health measures are concerned. Some of the other things like opening hours and things like that, yes, of course, we will look into that,” he said in response to CodeBlue’s question on whether Malaysia will follow Denmark and the UK in lifting all domestic restrictions.
Khairy said the government will also review its current isolation requirements, but decisions will only be made after Covid trends from the Chinese New Year festivities are factored in.
Khairy expects Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases to continue moving upwards in the coming weeks, going even beyond the current seven-day average of 5,299 cases.
Nevertheless, he told the public not to panic over the number of Covid-19 cases but instead look at more telling indicators like hospitalisations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions.
Even then, hospital admissions do not seem to be completely reflective of the severity of the epidemic anymore as Dr Mahesh Appannan, head of data at MOH’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), pointed out recently on Twitter that milder Covid cases are now being admitted, in reference to CodeBlue’s report of a 77 per cent rise in Covid admissions in Kuala Lumpur.
In the past seven days, hospital admissions nationwide increased by 5 per cent, lower than the 33 per cent average increase in daily Covid infections. The country’s ICU figures, however, has continued to decline since September last year, with the utilisation rate at 50 per cent, including non-Covid cases.