Re-Evaluate Return To Work Criteria For Health Care Professionals With Covid — MHC

Reducing the isolation period from seven days to five days may have hidden consequences for the safety of health care workers and patients.

The Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) is concerned by the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Annex 21b: Management of Healthcare Worker Confirmed with Covid-19 In the Event of a Human Resource Crisis, announced on March 21, 2022.

Annex 21b is an attempt to manage short-staffed situations in health care facilities by having confirmed Covid-19 health care professionals (HCP) return to work before the completion of their isolation period.

As of March 23, 2022, the country’s daily absence rate among HCPs due to high-risk exposure or being Covid-positive exceeds 6 per cent, creating staff shortages in hospitals and clinics.

Therefore, we understand the government’s attempt to maintain an adequate number of HCPs to ensure patient care. However, reducing the isolation period from seven days to five days may have hidden consequences for the safety of HCPs and patients.

A number of studies have shown that up to 50 per cent of Covid-19 patients remain infectious on Day Five and even beyond that. Requiring HCPs with asymptomatic infection to return to work on Day Six with possible illness could lead to health care-associated clusters.

We ask the government to be cautious in approving such policies as it defeats the MOH’s objectives to prevent short staffing and alleviate Covid-19 caseloads.

We urge the government to mandate antigen testing for asymptomatic HCPs on Day Five, and only allow those with negative test results to return to work.

High-risk HCPs with dependents, especially children, must be allowed to complete a full seven-day isolation period, as child care and education facilities are unlikely to accept their children until seven days have passed.

To be fair, we expect the government to provide medical certificates, instead of requiring HCPs to take annual leave for any additional days of rest, and to ensure tat both parents and children are fully safe before returning to work and schools.

At the same time, the government must provide appropriate personal protective equipment, which includes well-fitted masks, recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) (N95, KF94 or FFP2) for all HCPs.

While we commend the measures and efforts made by the government to reduce the strain on our health care system and maintain patient care, equal attention must be given to the safety and welfare of our HCPs.

We believe and expect the government to re-evaluate the contents of Annex 21b, to act fairly, and with compassion.

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