‘Malaysia hits all the marks of being in endemic phase’

GEORGE TOWN: The country is ready to move out from the pandemic stage and into endemicity based on current indicators, says a health expert.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Advanced Medical and Dental Institute Biomedical Science head Dr Muhammad Amir Yunus said several indicators showed that the country has an option to move into the endemic status, which could help manage Covid-19 better without draining too much health and economic resources.

“Among others, we are there with the vaccination coverage status, number of new cases per million population globally, and surveillance on virus (no new significant dangerous variants and severity of illness in general).

“People should keep in mind that ‘endemic’ status doesn’t mean that there should be zero daily cases, which is totally wrong as it refers to how manageable the number is, without the emergence of new dangerous virus variants.

“Endemicity itself doesn’t mean good or safe. It means that the Covid-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) is here for many years to come. It can still spread and potentially kill.

“But we can and have managed to contain it,” he said, adding that the country cannot be on a prolonged pandemic stage, which would put undue pressure on public health enforcement.

Dr Muhammad Amir said the number of cases would stay at a certain threshold for some time in the pandemic phase as there will definitely be Covid-19 cases.

“There are certain standard operating procedures (SOPs) still in place. Therefore, it is still a good idea for people to stick to the current enforced SOPs, especially masking at closed and crowded places.”

USM virologist Dr Kumitaa Theva Das, however, said in contrast with other diseases, Covid-19 needs a certain level of intervention although cases have decreased compared with a year ago.

“We still need to be aware of new variants that are still circulating, for example the BA.5, which was recently detected in Malaysia, and can cause damage to the lungs.

“It may very well be more similar to follow the pattern of the flu, where it occurs seasonally.”

Kumitaa said the cases should be stable for an extended period of time before being declared an endemicity, as at the moment, no other country has declared it an endemicity despite recording fewer cases.

“In general, the endemicity declaration is typically done by the World Health Organisation (WHO) before other countries follow suit. It also depends on the purpose of the declaration.

“Yes, we have achieved several indicators but before we can confidently move into the endemic phase, we do want to know that we can retain these indicators for a long time and be able to respond quickly whenever there is a new outbreak or cluster.

“We still need to be cautious as we have kids below five years old who are not vaccinated and may still be a risk and transmit the virus to others. While Pfizer and Moderna have released their vaccines to be administered to kids, it may be some time before a majority of the kids have access to it.

“We also have the elderly and those with comorbidities who are at higher risk.

“Lastly, the virus is still evolving with some of the newer strains being more transmissible or dangerous. As such, we still need to follow the SOPs to protect our loved ones and the people around us as best as we can,” she added.

WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on Jan 30, 2020. In March this year, WHO said it has begun discussions on what conditions would signal that the public health emergency is over.

“As of now, we are not there yet,” it said in a statement.

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