No Border Closures Or Mandatory Covid Tests For China Travellers

Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s statement cites wastewater sampling from planes from China and the extension of an Act 342 regulation to June 30, 2023 that was initially scheduled to end Dec 31, 2022. This regulation was previously used for lockdowns, among others.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 30 – The government has decided not to suspend the entry of visitors from China into Malaysia or to subject them to pre-departure or on-arrival Covid-19 testing.

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s press statement on Malaysia’s preparedness – following China’s decision to reopen borders from January 8 amid a huge Covid-19 surge in the country – lists several local disease surveillance, prevention and control, and treatment measures instead of travel restrictions.

Among these are wastewater surveillance on planes arriving from China, where samples will be sent to the National Public Health Laboratory (MKAK) for PCR testing and subsequent virus genome sequencing if positive.

All arrivals from overseas, including China, at international entry points will undergo fever screening. Symptomatic or self-declared cases will be referred to “quarantine centres” or health authorities for another examination. If suspected for Covid-19, they will be tested for the virus.

Dr Zaliha’s written statement did not explain what “quarantine centres” she was referring to, since Malaysia has closed all quarantine facilities after the shift of the country’s transition to the endemic phase.

The minister’s statement also did not explain subsequent protocols for symptomatic overseas arrivals who later test positive for Covid-19 at the “quarantine centres” or health authorities – such as whether they will be sent to designated quarantine facilities or if they will be simply required to self-isolate instead at whatever accommodation they have booked or at their residence in Malaysia.

The Malaysia Tourism Agency Association yesterday urged the government to suspend the entry of tourists from China into Malaysia, noting that many countries have imposed Covid restrictions on visitors from China.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii previously suggested pre-departure and on-arrival Covid testing for arrivals from China.

Infectious disease and public health experts, however, told CodeBlue that local measures like wearing face masks and getting boosted with the mRNA vaccine were more important, saying that border controls would not prevent outbreaks or the entry of new variants into Malaysia.

Extension of ‘Infected Local Areas’ Declaration To June 30, 2023

Dr Zaliha also gazetted last December 27 an order [P.U. (A) 397/2022] to extend the operation of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Declaration of Infected Local Areas) Order 2020 until June 30, 2023, after the regulation was initially scheduled to end on December 31, 2022.

The 2020 order [P.U. (A) 87/2020], gazetted on March 17, 2020 in the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, declares every single state in Malaysia, as well as the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, and Labuan, as “infected local areas” due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

This declaration of “infected local areas” was made under Section 11 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) that empowers the minister to make regulations to prescribe prevention or control infectious disease measures related to an “infected local area”.

Such regulations were previously used during the past three years of the pandemic to enforce measures like lockdowns, quarantine, mask and vaccine mandates, and check-ins on the MySejahtera app, among others.

As the previous government failed to amend Act 342 to increase compounds of offences to a maximum RM10,000 for individuals, this means that the punishment under whatever new regulations in future for Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) remains a maximum RM1,000 compound.

Dr Zaliha’s statement said her extension of the “infected local areas” declaration from January 1 to June 30, 2023 was to “enable the Ministry of Health (MOH) to conduct prevention and control activities on the spread of Covid-19 infection”.

The minister’s and MOH officers did not respond to CodeBlue’s queries on whether the extension of the declaration meant that the government may potentially reimpose lockdowns during the period until June 30 next year.

‘Strong Encouragement’ To Wear Face Masks, Get Booster Jabs

Dr Zaliha’s statement today, however, did not reintroduce indoor mask mandates or vaccine mandates, but strongly encouraged people to voluntarily wear face masks or to take their booster shots.

Only 1.9 per cent of the population have received their second Covid-19 booster dose, while 49.8 per cent have received their first booster jab.

“Protection from Covid-19 vaccination will decline over a certain period of time and it depends on the type of variant at the time,” Dr Zaliha said.

To encourage high-risk groups to get vaccinated, MOH is offering walk-ins at public health clinics and MOH hospitals from January 9, 2023 (based on clinic operating hours) to people with comorbidities, including chronic disease; senior citizens aged 60 and older; and individuals at risk of severe symptoms and complications from Covid-19 infection. For others who haven’t completed their primary course or received a booster jab, they can make appointments on MySejahtera or contact a nearby public health clinic.

The Paxlovid antiviral medication will also be provided to eligible Covid-19 patients according to guidelines.

“Those at high risk, including individuals with comorbidities, are strongly encouraged to wear face masks, especially in congested areas like public gatherings. Those with symptoms are also encouraged to wear face masks and to self test for Covid-19,” Dr Zaliha said.

Genome Sequencing For Local Covid Cases With China Travel History

All influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) cases presenting at health care facilities in Malaysia will be tested with RTK-Ag for Covid-19 – with samples sent for genome sequencing if positive for the coronavirus – if these patients had travel history to China or contact with people with travel history to China in the past 14 days.

This is to identify any new variants.

Dr Zaliha said that Covid-19 surveillance on ILI cases at 59 sentinel clinics and SARI cases at 18 sentinel hospitals nationwide is still ongoing.

“For this purpose, ILI samples are sent to Public Health Laboratories nationwide, while SARI samples are sent to the Institute for Medical Research for PCR testing and subsequently for whole genomic sequencing if positive for Covid-19.”

The minister also cited the continuation of self-isolation measures for people who test positive for Covid-19, either via self-test kits and self-reporting test results on MySejahtera or by getting tested at a health care facility.

Positive cases will be given a digital home surveillance order on the app for self-isolation, without needing to go in-person to a district health office or a Covid-19 Assessment Centre (CAC).

“Besides that, MOH will ensure that all CACs are in operation whether physically or virtually. CAC in identified clinics are prepared to receive a high number of visits or calls from patients to evaluate patients confirmed to be Covid-19 positive,” Dr Zaliha said.

The health minister’s statement did not explain the status of the government’s procurement of MySejahtera, after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from the 14th Parliament found no documents or contracts related to the initial appointment of Entomo Malaysia Sdn Bhd as the app developer.

The PAC’s report on its inquiry into the development and procurement of MySejahtera also said that the previous Cabinet, in November 2021, authorised a ceiling payment of RM196 million to MySJ Sdn Bhd – a separate company from Entomo – for MySejahtera services over a two-year period from April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2023.

Then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin did not announce the signing of any contract between the government and MySJ before he left office; previously, he said that MOH was awaiting approval from the Ministry of Finance (MOF) after MOH concluded direct negotiations to procure management of the MySejahtera app.

Deputy Finance Minister Steven Sim Chee Keong referred CodeBlue to Dr Zaliha, when asked for clarification on whether Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim or MOF has signed a contract with MySJ and how much payment has or will be made to the private company.

Dr Zaliha’s officers did not respond to CodeBlue’s queries today – after the minister issued her statement on Covid-19 preparedness – on whether the government has signed a contract with MySJ, the payment involved, or whether the procurement involves procuring the app itself instead of just services from the company.

Shortly after taking office, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is also the finance minister, declared that his administration would no longer approve government procurements without a tender.

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