Keeping Safe In The Transition To Covid Endemicity

Wear a properly fitted mask, wash or sanitise your hands often, and ensure good ventilation; surfaces can be cleaned with regular household cleaning products like soap or detergent.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 – Although the government has lifted various Covid-19 restrictions, such as physical distancing and outdoor mask mandates, the virus is still circulating in Malaysia.

Continuing to follow basic health protocols that have been practised over the past two years of the pandemic will help reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19, even as Malaysia transitions into endemicity, or a phase of living with the airborne virus permanently for at least the foreseeable future.

Dr Kumitaa Theva Das, a virologist from Universiti Sains Malaysia, said the highest Covid-19 transmission often occurs in a poorly ventilated confined space, where there is close contact over a prolonged period.

“SOPs (standard operating procedures) that we have been practising like wearing a properly-fitted mask, physical distancing, and having a good ventilation helps tremendously in preventing infection,” Dr Kumitaa told CodeBlue.

“The more of these habits you practise, the more you are able to reduce the risk of infection. Sanitising your hands, or washing your hands with soap, also makes up for being in a room which has not been cleaned and disinfected recently.

“Now, armed with more than two years of knowledge, the facts are clear. It’s people, not surfaces, that are the main cause for transmission.”

High-risk places, including poorly ventilated areas with high mobility and shared spaces, might need more frequent cleaning or sanitisation measures. Dr Kumitaa said that regular household cleaning products are sufficient for this.

“If someone tested positive for Covid-19 recently, only then is it recommended to clean and disinfect the surfaces with specialised solutions to prevent risk of transmission to others within the same space.

“Recommended products include surface virucidal disinfectants, such as 0.05 per cent sodium hypochlorite (NaClO) and ethanol-based products (at least 70 per cent). If none of those products are available, disinfecting wipes may also be used.”

Dr Kumitha said Covid-19 transmission occurs in three ways: inhalation of air carrying infectious droplets and aerosol particles, splashes or spray (sneezing, talking and even breathing) onto mucosal membranes (eyes, nose and mouth), or fomite transmission (transmission through contaminated surfaces).

“Between all the listed modes of transmission, Covid-19 transmission primarily occurs through airborne compared to fomite transmission.”

According to Dr Kumitha, a well-maintained air conditioning system that is inspected and cleaned periodically, with usage of efficient filters, do not necessarily pose a risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Nevertheless, when an air conditioner is not maintained properly, the system could recirculate contaminated air or the ideal indoor microenvironment (temperature and humidity) that supports virus survival could be created, she added.

“Overall, there is no evidence to suggest that a well-maintained air conditioner will increase the risk of transmission of Covid.”

The government loosened Covid-19 restrictions effective May 1, including no longer requiring physical distancing, wearing face masks in outdoor settings, or checking into public premises via the MySejahtera app. The legal requirement for positive Covid-19 cases to self-isolate was reduced from seven to four days.

Sharp Rise In Sales Of Disinfectant Products During Pandemic

A disinfectant spray outside a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Picture taken by Boo Su-Lyn on January 26, 2022.

Sia Ban Ian, the founder of Bactakleen, told CodeBlue that his company that sells disinfectant products saw a major jump in sales of nearly 700 per cent since 2019.

Bactakleen’s disinfectant products ranged from RM25 to RM200, based on the size and specific functions of the products.

Besides that, a total of 5,669 products matched CodeBlue’s search, “automatic sanitiser spray machine for Covid”, in online shopping platform Lazada as of February 25.

That includes a variety of gun-shaped automatic spray bottles and machines, electric nano mist spray, car sanitiser and mini fogging machine used in cars. The prices of these items ranged from RM10 to RM180 generally.

The stores selling these products were mainly located in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. There were a few stores registered in other states like Perak, Kedah, Johor, Melaka and Penang as well as overseas stores.

A search on “disinfectant liquid” displayed 53,120 products in Lazada. These products include 50 ml sanitiser spray and up to ten litres of disinfectant liquid. Some descriptions of the products also claimed that they were approved by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

According to public health expert Prof Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, regular cleaning products like soap are adequate to clean contaminated surfaces.

He highlighted that disinfectant agents and sprays just give a “false sense of protection” to consumers.

“Just use soap – cheap and effective for surface contamination. Aerosolised disinfectant for space spraying is also not effective,” Dr Lokman told CodeBlue.

It is important to note that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights that regular cleaning products like soap or detergent are sufficient to clean surfaces to kill the coronavirus.

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