KUALA LUMPUR, June 29 – The government will remove mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in health care facilities from July 5, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa announced today.
Malaysia’s decision to drop one of the last vestiges of Covid-19 curbs comes two months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared last May 5 an end to the status of Covid as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), and five months after Singapore removed mask mandates on public transport last February 13.
Dr Zaliha said in a statement that from July 5, wearing face masks will only be mandatory for people positive for Covid-19 and for health care workers in health care facilities when dealing with patients.
“Wearing face masks is highly encouraged based on self-evaluation while on public transport like buses; trains; planes; taxis, including e-hailing services; worker buses or vans; and school buses or vans,” she said.
However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) still decided to extend the declaration of “infected local areas” under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, which was scheduled to end tomorrow, for another six months until December 31 this year.
Dr Zaliha said the extension of the order – which 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 – was needed to enforce “a few provisions” in regulations related to infectious disease prevention and control in the country’s transition to the endemic phase of Covid.
The health minister did not specify what other Covid-related regulations still need to be enforced, given that many individuals simply self-test for the virus and self-isolate, while MySejahtera check-ins were already rolled back months ago.
“The extension of the declaration of Malaysia as an ‘infected local area’ is needed also because of the risk of the emergence of new variants and subvariants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Malaysia,” Dr Zaliha said.
“Besides that, with mass gatherings that are expected to occur during Hari Raya Aidil Adha celebrations and the upcoming state elections, these are likely to risk an increase in cases that would burden the public health care system if prevention and control measures cannot be implemented fully.”
The extension of the status of the country as an “infected local area” until year-end means that the government can – at any time – reintroduce curbs like lockdowns, on the basis of Covid, that can be gazetted by the health minister without needing parliamentary approval.
Despite this extension, Dr Zaliha did not announce when the bivalent vaccine would be made available in Malaysia. As of last June 27, half of the Malaysian population has received their first booster dose, while only 2.5 per cent took their second booster shot.
The health minister announced that the mandatory self-isolation for Covid after testing positive will be cut short from seven to five days from symptom onset, effective July 5.
The health minister said in the past five weeks, from the 21st to the 25th epidemiological week, new Covid-19 infections dropped by 53.5 per cent, while new Covid-19 deaths declined by 35.3 per cent to 11 cases in the last epidemiological week.
The number of hospital admissions for Covid-19 also declined in that period, while bed occupancy rate of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units (ICU) remained stable at 6 per cent in the 25th epidemiological week compared to the preceding week.
“Wearing face masks is highly encouraged based on self-evaluation for high-risk individuals like senior citizens, individuals with chronic disease, individuals with low immunity, or pregnant mothers, especially in crowded and poorly ventilated areas,” Dr Zaliha said.
She added that masking is also encouraged for individuals with respiratory symptoms to avoid infecting others.