The government has declared that Malaysia is moving into endemicity, and restrictions are being gradually lifted, as have many other countries.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly expressed caution that “endemic” does not necessarily mean better or milder, and that the pandemic is not over yet.
New variants of concern may emerge, and some may have a greater ability to evade the protection vaccines currently offer.
We must learn from other countries that have removed most restrictions, especially mask mandates, especially European countries. When restrictions, including mask mandates, were lifted, hospitalisations rose, especially among children.
There is also a growing body of evidence that speaks about the serious effects of long Covid and the long-term health impact of getting infected by Covid-19, even for those already vaccinated.
While vaccination reduces the risk of long Covid by approximately 50 per cent, it does not remove it completely. Long Covid can be devastating, and many scientists now speak of the burden of disability that will come with the pandemic.
The movement to an endemic phase, with the relaxation of restrictions and less testing, has made many Malaysians complacent. We are seeing more domestic tourism, larger groups eating together, and packed Ramadan bazaars.
It is very likely that we will have a significant increase in the number of cases and hospitalisations in the coming weeks, and the spread of the virus is very likely happening now.
Children under 5 who currently cannot be vaccinated, and children aged 5 to 11 who have yet to be vaccinated, may be the ones who will be most affected by the next wave.
We can see this in the increased number of deaths of children during the recent wave, and the huge number of school clusters occurring now.
In addition, older persons, the disabled, and those with chronic illnesses (comorbidities) who have yet to receive a booster dose, will also be at higher risk of hospitalisation and death.
Every death due to Covid-19 is a tragedy, and can be avoided. The death of a child due to Covid-19 is an unimaginable trauma for parents, and they are often scarred for life.
I would ask that we move forward cautiously. We must constantly review the data and anticipate the impact of what is coming.
For example, the Omicron sub-variants are harmful to children under 10, as seen in data from Hong Kong and the Untied Kingdom.
We must continue to protect children and vulnerable adults, and we must do this together as a community. We must not remove our mask mandate.
In fact, the data supports the upgrading of face mask quality, including for children. We should all be using reliable (not fake) FFP2/KF94 masks. We need to use masks in all indoor facilities, in public transportation, and at any crowded outdoor venue.
Please remember that, while vaccinations have helped extensively, the Covid-19 pandemic has yet to come to an end. We have just emerged from one wave, and might soon be in another.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.