‘Learn to co-exist with Covid-19’

PETALING JAYA: New Covid-19 variants will keep emerging but life with the virus is possible as long as Malaysians continue to keep their guard up and follow the standard operating procedure (SOP), say health experts.

Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Dr Sanjay Rampal said the emergence of variants would keep happening if global cases continue to be high.

However, he said safety measures such as vaccination, wearing masks and avoiding crowds could still help reduce the risk.

“We must accept that new variants will continue to emerge if global incidence of Covid-19 is high,” he said.

While knowledge on new variants such as the latest Mu variant of interest (VOI) is still sparse and more evidence is needed before being able to understand its effect on transmission dynamics, he said Malaysians must continue to practise safety measures amid the lifting of social and economic curbs for the fully vaccinated.

“Restrictions should be dynamically calibrated based on community transmission and the ability of the government to respond to the health crisis.

“When a region’s capacity is adequate, restrictions should be relaxed; and vice versa, restrictions should be intensified when the capacity of a region is severely limited.

“As other structural restrictions are relaxed, we should still practise good hand and respiratory hygiene, maintain our physical distance the best we can, and wear a mask in close, congested areas,” said Prof Sanjay.

He also said Malaysians should consider limiting the number of people in social engagements.

Sarawak is moving ahead to vaccinate those aged 16 and 17, as well as those aged 12 to 15 who have high-risk diseases, with Labuan and the Klang Valley slated to follow shortly ahead of schools reopening in October.“The same need for vigilance applies here. Long-term closure (of schools) has never been advocated by the World Health Organisation or Unicef.

“Children will continue to get infected based on prevailing community risk, but schools can attempt to prevent intra-school transmission,” he added.

He suggests that a committee be formed in each school that includes students, parents, teachers, administrators, local government and government representatives to look into this.

“It is also a good move to encourage all teachers and staff to be vaccinated and that unvaccinated teachers should understand that they have a higher lifetime risk of severe Covid-19.

“In addition, they pose a higher risk of morbidity to other unvaccinated school staff rather than to the schoolchildren themselves,” he said.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said as long as people strictly adhered to the recommended SOP, the threat of transmissions of new variants could be prevented or reduced.

“The emergence of VOIs and VOCs (variants of concern) is not an indicator whether sectors should be opened or not.

“From a public health point of view, vigilant SOP should be continued even though the persons have been fully vaccinated, in order to curb the spread of possible new variants,” she added.

To hinder the spread of new variants such as Mu in Malaysia, she said strict measures on entry and exit routes must be continued, alongside continuous surveillance.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said life with Covid-19 could be possible and the threat of new variants such as Mu could be reduced with the help of vaccination, adherence to the SOP, and a good surveillance system of VOIs and VOCs.

“We should go for near normalcy. At the same time, we should prepare our health system to face any new emergence of big clusters and continue to educate and mobilise the community,” he added.

“Even with the social and economic relaxations granted to those who are fully vaccinated, adherence to the SOP and avoiding large events and gatherings will still be key in keeping the threat of Covid-19, as well as its variants, at bay.”

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said to counter the threat of VOIs and VOCs, the government must ensure the whole population was vaccinated, especially the vulnerable groups.

To live alongside the virus amid emerging new variants, he said the government must also ensure there were adequate testing kits as well as enough intensive care facilities and trained doctors throughout the country.

“There is no need to distinguish between those vaccinated and not, once over 80% of the population are already vaccinated,” said Prof Sazaly.

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