The previous Covid-19 wave with Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 lasted from February to May 2022. The caseload peaked at 32,800 on March 11, 2022.
The lowest daily case number was 922 on 3 May and the daily cases fluctuated below 2,000 until June 21, 2022. Since then, daily cases have been hovering below 3,000 until July 7, 2022, when 4,020 cases were reported. The total cases had increased almost 30 per cent in the past week.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that by the end of June, new weekly cases were up by 32 per cent in Southeast Asia, 33 per cent in Europe, and 47 per cent in the region comprising the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
As of June 19, Omicron BA.5 accounted for 43 per cent of Omicron cases worldwide, while Omicron BA.4 accounted for 12 per cent.
Both the health minister and health director-general have warned us to prepare for a new wave, since Omicron BA.5 has invaded our country and a high number of cases are probably from this variant.
According to the researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, BA.5 is able to escape antibody responses among people who were previously infected with Covid-19, and those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted. Reinfections might be inevitable until we have new vaccines that could prevent transmission effectively.
However, current Covid-19 vaccines are still expected to provide substantial protection against severe disease. In addition, the BA.4 and BA.5 variants do not seem to cause more severe symptoms compared to BA.1 and BA.2.
Moreover, vaccine manufacturers are working on updated vaccines that might elicit a stronger immune response against the new variants. Hopefully, in the near future, there will be new vaccines to prevent the transmission of Omicron variants.
So what should the public do now? Those eligible for vaccination, especially children aged between 5 and 11, should get vaccinated. Those who have not taken their booster shots (third dose) should get it as soon as possible.
The elderly and high-risk groups should go for their second booster shot (fourth dose). Vaccination might not be effective in the prevention of transmission, but it is effective in preventing severe symptoms, hospitalisation, and even death, especially among the elderly and high-risk groups.
Public health measures such as wearing masks indoors, maintaining hand hygiene, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated areas, and self-testing before joining any group activities, should be practised in order to reduce or stop the transmission of the highly infectious BA.5 variant.
We should not have the impression that it is fine to get infected if the disease is mild. We must not forget that even mild Covid-19 patients may suffer post-Covid conditions or long Covid.
In addition, there is new evidence from the United States showing that compared with those infected once with Covid-19, those with two or more documented infections had more than twice the risk of dying, and three times the risk of being hospitalised within six months of their last infection.
They also had higher risks for lung and heart problems, fatigue, digestive and kidney disorders, diabetes, and neurologic problems.
Let us all remain vigilant and stay safe and healthy in the coming Covid-19 wave.
Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming is from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.