Tighten borders, boost vaccinations to keep new Covid variants at bay - Health experts

20 Dec 2023 07:00am
Picture for illustrative purposes - FILE PIX
Picture for illustrative purposes - FILE PIX

SHAH ALAM - As Malaysia grapples with rising Covid-19 cases, health experts urge vigilance on two fronts: stricter border controls and improved vaccination coverage.

Professor Dr Sharifah Ezat of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia commended the five-point strategy implemented by the Health Ministry, but stressed the need to "fortify our borders."

"New, potentially asymptomatic variants can pose a significant threat," she told Sinar Daily.

She also called for thorough checks, especially for individuals displaying fever or cough, highlighting the urgency of preventing new importations.

Dr Sharifah also voiced concern about lagging booster shot coverage in several states.

Transparent communication from the government is crucial, she stressed, to address vaccine hesitancy by emphasising the benefits over potential side effects.

"Educating people about the long-term cost of the disease compared to vaccine risks is critical for increasing uptake," she said.

While the current variant is under investigation, not yet classified as a "Variant of Concern" (VOC), Dr Sharifah warned against complacency.

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"Severe cases still place strain on healthcare systems, and the possibility of a more worrisome VOC emerging adds to the concern.

"Another outbreak is a real threat," she cautioned.

Echoing Dr Sharifah's concerns, Consultant Public Health Specialist Professor Dr Hematram Yadav highlighted early detection and monitoring.

Acknowledging the effectiveness of the Health Ministry's current strategy, he points out that 97 per cent of identified cases are low-risk.

However, Dr Yadav identified public fatigue with preventive measures like mask-wearing and social distancing as a potential risk factor for case increase. He remained optimistic that widespread vaccination will mitigate the severity of cases, but acknowledges the possibility of lower uptake for future booster shots due to vaccine controversies.

"However, since many of us are vaccinated the disease will not be that serious in my point of view.

"Also, there is the possibility of new vaccination, but there will be fewer takers because of the controversies on vaccinations," he said.

In a related matter, Dr Yadav strongly opposed another Movement Control Orders (MCO), citing its ineffectiveness in many countries. Instead, he advocated for self-isolation, mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting group gatherings.

Public adherence to these measures, he underlined, remains key to curbing further transmission.

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