The endemic phase planning in Malaysia is important for economic and social activities and opening international borders without restrictions, and boosting the tourism economy
BY DR NIZAM ISHAK
AND ASSOC PROF
DR TAN TOH LEONG
The Omicron variant is the dominant new Covid-19 variant in most countries.
The variant first detected in South Africa on November 2021 has higher infection rates than other variants. Because of this, Malaysia has postponed the country’s transition from the pandemic phase to the endemic phase.
The Omicron variant was found to cause increased admissions of Covid-19 infected children to hospitals. This trend can be seen in the United Kingdom, France, Spain and the United States.
Most of the symptoms experienced by these children are indistinguishable from other infectious diseases. Before this, children infected with Covid-19 would present to the hospital with severe respiratory symptoms or pneumonia.
However, children with the Omicron variant show the characteristics of multiple inflammatory syndromes and the symptoms are less related to the respiratory problem.
On the bright side, the Omicron variant usually does not lead to severe illnesses compared to the Delta variant, especially to patients who have completed their vaccination.
Most of those vaccinated infected with the Omicron variant show no symptoms. Due to this, the Covid-19 vaccination program is one of the best methods to prevent the transmission of this Omicron variant in the population.
Therefore, the Ministry of Health (MoH) is campaigning for the public to complete their Covid-19 vaccination to reduce the daily cases and death rate due to the Omicron variant. The MoH has also encouraged all completed vaccinated people to take a booster dose, especially for Sinovac vaccine recipients to increase the body’s immunity.
If a patient is infected with the Omicron variant, a booster dose hopes to reduce the risk of severe disease and the requirement to be admitted to the Intensive Care Ward.
The MoH also plans to bring in antiviral drugs available in the market to treat Covid-19 in Malaysia such as Nirmatrelvir/Ritonavir (Paxlovid) and Molnupiravir. These antivirals can reduce the severity of Covid-19 and help to reduce the need for patients to be hospitalised.
They can also be taken orally at home. Thus, with the availability of these antiviral drugs, the transition to the endemic phase of Covid-19 can be implemented quickly and effectively in Malaysia.
The MoH has issued new guidelines whereby the quarantine period has been reduced among completed vaccinated persons although they have been infected with the Omicron variant. Currently, a close contact person who has received the booster injection and is asymptomatic needs to be quarantined for five days.
The endemic phase planning is important for economic and social activities. In Covid-19, these activities can be planned properly to reduce the rate of transmission and admission of patients to hospital.
However, cooperation and discipline from the community are important to ensure that public health prevention measures such as social isolation and periodic self-testing successfully prevent the spread of Omicron variants. This can ensure the endemic phase in Malaysia runs smoothly.
During this endemic phase, it is also important that new norms of life during the pandemic phase such as wearing face masks and periodic health monitoring using the MySejahtera application are continued.
During the endemic phase, the most important achievement would be to reduce Covid-19 deaths and ensure healthcare facilities are not burdened with the influx of Covid-19 patients. Another goal is to open international borders without restrictions and boost the tourism economy.
Hopefully, one day, Covid-19 including the Omicron variant, can be managed as simple as an influenza infection. It is also hoped there will be no more emergence of a new Covid-19 variant so that life in Malaysia can return to the way it was before the pandemic. — The Health
Dr Nizam Ishak is Senior Principal Assistant Director Medico-Legal Section, Medical Practice Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia while Assoc Professor Dr Tan Toh Leong is Senior Lecturer and Emergency Medical Consultant, UKM Medical Center, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and President and Founder of Malaysian Sepsis Alliance.