Interstate travellers urged to mask up, not let guard down

KUALA LUMPUR: Health experts are worried about another round of mass movement with the opening up of interstate travel.

Despite a limited number of about 150,000 (figures as of Wednesday) travelling, they urge everyone who are leaving town to mask up.

Former health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said he was concerned that people would let their guard down.

“Malaysians must practise self-discipline and adhere to the guidelines by the Health Ministry,” he said.

On Saturday, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government had decided to allow those stranded in their hometowns to travel back to major cities from May 7-10, as most companies had been allowed to reopen for business from May 4.

Exceptions were also made for others who are stranded and wanting to return to their hometowns.

According to Bukit Aman on May 7, only those from Kuala Lumpur could travel while people in Perak, Johor and Kelantan on May 8.

Those in Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Melaka and Pahang are allowed to travel from May 9. Those in Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Terengganu will be allowed on May 10.

As of Wednesday, only 148,516 people out of 1.4 million who registered for interstate travel through the Gerak Malaysia app had verified their trips.

On whether the Covid-19 situation could still be kept under control with all the movement, Dr Ismail acknowledged the need to open up businesses, but the government should have waited until May 12 and implemented the travel plans cautiously and on a staggered fashion.

He said his concern was on asymptomatic cases, adding that it was now up to Malaysians to do their part and be safe.

“The government is easing the MCO for specific reasons but we must abide by what needs to be done – the new normal, as they say,” he said, adding that the Covid-19 situation is expected to linger for some time.

Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia adviser Datuk Dr Musa Mohd Nordin said interstate travel was done on compassionate grounds and limited to those stranded in places not their homes or remote from their workplace to return.

In view of the higher infection rate in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, and parts of Selangor, varying between 0.45 and 0.76 which is 4.2 to 2.5 times the national average (0.18), he said this posed a risk to those in villages returning to the cities and those in the cities returning to villages.

Dr Musa pointed out that the main risk factors included household contact (13%), transportation sharing (11%) and dining out (7%). In view of the risks, he said the wearing of face masks should be emphasised.

“Like physical distancing and hand-washing, the mask-for-all policy has somewhat contributed to Asia’s better flattening of the epidemic curve.

“The policy may be the ‘middle ground’ to harmonise between a total lockdown that hurts the economy and a total freedom with the risk of Covid-19 resurgence,” he said.

He said the Selangor Task Force on Covid-19 had been strongly advocating its use by all and calling for a mandatory rule on mask usage.

While short, casual interactions were not the main driver of the epidemic, Dr Musa said people should still keep practising physical distancing.

There should also be temperature check before travelling, he said.

Former Association of Environmental Health vice-president S. Veeramohan concurred that the use of face mask should be made mandatory for all travellers for conditional MCO and following the gradual lifting of the MCO.

He also advised returnees who had been to crowded places to leave their shoes outside the house and wash them outside.

“After shampooing the hair and bathing thoroughly, gargle with warm salt water,” he said.

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