‘Imposing travel ban not effective in the long term’


PETALING JAYA: Imposing a travel ban on countries that have detected the presence of the Covid-19 Omicron variant is ineffective and should be replaced by strengthening public health measures, including longer quarantines and RT-PCR testing, say health experts.

International Islamic University Malaysia public health medicine specialist Asst Prof Dr Mohammad Farhan Rusli said travel restrictions were just a stopgap measure.

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“For all we know, the Omicron may already be in Malaysia, just that we have not done enough genomic sequencing to determine that.

“Imposing travel bans serve as a quick way of controlling the spread but are economically ineffective,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Yesterday, the government added Malawi to the list of countries on temporary travel restrictions as of Dec 1.

Other countries currently on the restricted travel list are South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Dr Mohammad Farhan said he felt that basic public health measures, including testing, tracing and isolation, were needed instead.

“Due to globalisation many from these countries are bound to cross paths, perhaps during flight transits. Just like the Delta variant, we need to make sure our public health response and capacity are ready if a surge occurs,” he said.

Universiti Malaya Department of Social and Preventive Medicine Faculty of Medicine Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming said imposing a longer quarantine period of at least 14 days with repeated RT-PCR testing would be a more appropriate response compared with a blanket ban.

“We should impose quarantine measures on citizens coming in from these countries instead,” she said.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said a long-term mitigation plan was needed, as more such cases with new variants and mutations were likely to arise in the future.

“We cannot be imposing such restrictions every time. There must be a long-term plan as to how we are going to tackle this,” he said.

However, as not much is known about the Omicron variant, Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said she believed the government was correct in imposing a travel ban on some countries.

“As the actual clinical and epidemiology impact of Omicron is not yet known, the government is making the right move. It is a safer choice in preventing a potential new wave of infection,” she said.

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