Living in the endemic phase


The new norm: It should become a habit for all to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and regularly wash hands should there be a spike in Covid-19 transmission during the endemic phase, health experts say. — KK SHAM/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Endemic or no, health experts say Malaysians must have a heightened awareness on personal health to reduce risks of worsened illnesses caused by Covid-19.

During the endemic stage, Covid-19 might be a seasonal disease, said Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming from Universiti Malaya’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine.

This means the number of cases could fluctuate depending on the “season”, she said, adding that compliance with public health safety guidelines must be in place always.

“We may be able to go back to pre-Covid days during the low season of Covid-19 but when the virus is in season or there is a spike in its transmission, wearing a mask on public transport or indoors could become the norm.

“Other public health strategies like regularly washing hands and maintaining physical distance in high-risk settings like hospitals could also be required,” she said, adding that working from home when an individual is sick would also be a norm in endemicity.

Covid-19 will become endemic when the virus, despite its presence, would not be an extreme concern to the health system, said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia health economics, hospital and health management professor Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh.

She said the virus might still cause spikes of smaller scales, so a strong surveillance system of infectious diseases would be required.

“At this point in time, some standard operating procedure may be relaxed and we may be able to continue as pre-Covid period.

“However, this will depend much on the upcoming variants and their pathogenicity such as causing disease or deaths,” she said.

Besides having a more equipped healthcare system, Dr Sharifa also said the public should take better care of their personal health even during the endemic stage.

Senior Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the government may announce a decision within the next two to three weeks about the possibility of the country transitioning to Covid-19 endemicity.

He listed seven criteria that needed to be met before the country entered the endemic phase.

These included having a heightened alert system; the Test, Report, Isolate, Inform, Seek; the Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Support system; the gradual reopening of national borders and community empowerment ambassadors.

Commenting on Malaysia’s readiness to enter the endemic stage, Dr Sharifa said it might take the country another three months before achieving it.

She said the healthcare system was still rigorously fighting the virus while new cases and clusters were still emerging.

“Malaysia is not yet ready as we still have a high number of new infections, although most are less severe, and hospital admissions are still at 65% based on the Covidnow website.

“It may take another three months before we achieve endemicity, provided there is no new Variant of Concern (VOC) that are more potent than Delta and Omicron,” she added.

University Putra Malaysia’s epidemiologist Dr Malina Osman concurred with the point that Malaysia is not ready for endemicity and routine life pre-pandemic would not be achievable just yet.

“In a situation where the number of new and active cases manageable by the healthcare system without compromising all routine services which have been carried out during pre-pandemic, routine life can be continued as usual; then we are ready to move to the endemic phase,” she said.

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