Don’t drop your guard

PETALING JAYA: The recent negative Covid-19 test results of the Omicron index case and seven close contacts bring some cheer, but health experts are advising the public to continue to adhere to the standard operating procedure (SOP).

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah posted on Twitter yesterday that the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test conducted on the index case and seven others had come back negative.

“The latest from Perak. All eight RT-PCR test samples today are negative including the first Omicron index case (South African) in the country and seven close contact cases, namely the driver, a university employee, three university students (two Ghanians and one Indian) and two housemates,” he said.

The results, Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said, have provided relief for the time being.

“We hope the situation will remain under control, but at the same time we still have to adhere to the SOPs vigilantly,” she said when contacted yesterday.

She said the current SOPs are adequate to prevent the spread of the variant, but the public needed to be more cautious, continue to adhere to the SOPs and get their booster shot.

“At the same time, a pre- and post-screening test at high-risk events should be encouraged.

“We also need continuous monitoring and enforcement from the relevant agencies,” she said, adding that avoiding unnecessary social functions would be best.

Dr Malina believes that community leaders must also set a good example for the community.

The first case of the Omicron variant in Malaysia was detected in a 19-year-old South African private university student in Ipoh who arrived from South Africa through Singapore on Nov 19.

The student did a Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test upon arrival at KLIA and self-quarantined for 10 days in accommodation provided by the university.

The student completed the quarantine on Nov 29.

However, as the case was detected on Nov 19 before the Omicron variant was announced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Nov 24, the student, as well as close contacts, had to undergo another RT-PCR test.

The second test conducted on Friday (Dec 3) was also negative.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia health economics, hospital and health management professor Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh welcomed the results, saying it was good news and showed that it was an isolated case.

However, one can never be too sure as reports have mentioned that the variant can evade detection, she cautioned.

“We need to screen more samples, that is why surveillance is very important,” she said.

Since an Omicron case has been detected here, Dr Sharifa said people need to continue to observe the SOP like mask-wearing, physical distancing and a better ventilation system, if possible.

“Many have forgotten all these basic rules especially since the government opened up almost all sectors,” she said.

Even though the country might not experience a full-blown Omicron outbreak, she believes that there is still a need to curtail existing strains and transmission, especially among the elderly and those with comorbidities.

Dr Sharifa said the government also needs to allow hybrid working and teaching in schools since many clusters have resulted from these places.

“Cases are still happening at workplaces and schools. Do not pressure people to go to their workplace or school, as we do not know the risks.

“There are people who get sick more easily than others,” she said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Mohd Tamil said Covid-19 and its various strains are now already a part of life, just like other diseases, such as HIV.

“We just have to live with it and modify our behaviour accordingly,” he said.

Despite this, he reminded the public to avoid any unnecessary exposure that could lead to infection.

“Let’s play it safe and reduce unnecessary contact,” he said.

Dr Azmi pointed out that the sudden surge in Omicron cases in African countries was closely related to their low vaccination rate.

“Even at best, coverage for them is only 30%.

“Countries with better vaccination coverage should be able to withstand it better.

“The mutation also affects the severity of the disease. Hopefully, it will lead to milder strains in the near future,” he said.

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