PETALING JAYA: Masks are still a must for Malaysians as the festive season continues and the country battles an onslaught of Covid-19 cases, say health authorities and experts.
Their advice comes at the heels of the latest guidance by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said that fully vaccinated individuals in the United States need not wear masks when they are outdoors.
A person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after they have received their second dose.
However, Malaysia’s Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah maintained that for now, masks still need to be worn.
“We have two strategies at the moment. One is to comply with the standard operating procedure for external protection, and the other is to undergo vaccination for internal protection.
“We must continue wearing masks until we have achieved herd immunity, ” he said when contacted.
On Thursday, the CDC updated its guidelines to say that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask or physically distance themselves in any setting, unless required by law.
It also said that fully vaccinated people can refrain from undergoing a Covid-19 test after being exposed to a suspected or confirmed patient.
In Malaysia, the Covid-19 situation is becoming increasingly dire with the Health Ministry projecting the number of cases would exceed 8,000 a day by next month if there is no intervention.
Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming of Universiti Malaya’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine said it would be too early for Malaysia to follow the United States’ footsteps in relaxing the rules for vaccinated individuals.
“The vaccination coverage in Malaysia is about 4%, while in the United States it is about 50%. What’s proposed by the CDC is not applicable to our country currently.
“Vaccines don’t offer 100% protection. If herd immunity is not achieved yet or the vaccine coverage is low in the country, those vaccinated may still be infected but not show symptoms, and they may unintentionally transmit the virus to others, ” she said.
Universiti Malaya professor of occupational and public health Prof Dr Victor Hoe said that while vaccines offer hope of life returning to normal, the time is not right for Malaysia to ease any SOP.
“Malaysians should continue with the current SOP of wearing face masks, physical distancing and observing hand hygiene.
“This is important as the number of cases in the country is on the rise, and the variants first reported in the United Kingdom and South Africa are currently found in Malaysia, ” he said.
“For now, Malaysia should focus on getting more people vaccinated and control the further spread of Covid-19.
“Furthermore, it is very difficult for the authorities to implement a selective SOP for fully vaccinated people, ” he added.
Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Prof Dr Sanjay Rampal said the recommendation by CDC may help increase vaccine acceptance among the larger community.
“The promise of a SOP relaxation may just be the light at the end of the tunnel that helps to promote vaccine acceptance and SOP compliance, ” he said.
He, however, admitted that such a move may not be suitable given Malaysia’s current early phase of the vaccination programme.
“Measures such as maintaining good hand hygiene, physical distancing, and wearing a mask in congested areas are still relevant to prevent transmission.
“Our SOP may be recalibrated once a larger proportion of the population gets vaccinated, ” he added.