Covid-19: Variants seen in China also detected in Malaysia, WHO data shows

PETALING JAYA: Covid-19 variants and sub-variants found in China have been detected in Malaysia, says Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa.

This is based on information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), she said, while urging the public to get a vaccine booster shot as soon as possible.

“The ministry is in close communication with the WHO, China and our peers from Asean.

“Based on reports, the WHO had a meeting with China on sharing the latest data and will continue to obtain detailed information, (updates) on the situation and Covid-19 management in the country.

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“Based on the report by China to WHO, the variants and sub-variants found in China have also been detected in Malaysia.

The WHO had a high-level meeting with China on Dec 30, and the United Nations agency said after the meeting that it had requested regular sharing of specific and real-time data on the epidemiological situation.

This included more genetic sequencing data, data on disease impact including hospitalisations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and deaths as well as vaccinations delivered and vaccination status, especially in vulnerable people and those over 60.

Dr Zaliha urged those who have exceeded a six-month period since their first booster shot to get a second dose without waiting for the bivalent vaccine to be available.

Citing existing data, she said the monovalent Covid-19 vaccines offered effective protection in preventing serious symptoms and fatalities.

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The vaccines also reduce hospitalisation rates, she added.

“The bivalent vaccines will be supplied soon, as the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency(NPRA) has already given conditional approval,” she said, adding that an announcement will be made on recipients' eligibility after the supplies arrive.

The conditional approval for the bivalent vaccine was given on Dec 14, and the supplies are expected to arrive early this year.

Bivalent vaccines provide protection against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Omicron sub-variants such as the BA.4 and BA.5, which were previously said to be vaccine-resistant.

She hoped that the uptake for booster shots would continue to rise especially among high-risk individuals, with 49.8% Malaysians receiving their first booster dose and 1.9% their second.

She also advised the public to observe precautionary measures and standard operating procedures as well as to practice TRIIS (trace, report, isolate, inform and seek treatment).

Dr Zaliha said the ministry was also weighing public concerns on the surge of infections in China and restrictions imposed by other nations on travellers from that country.

Adding that the matter is a priority for the ministry, she said preventive measures and preparations to face any potential surge of Covid-19 cases would be stepped up.

The extension of the local infection area declaration to June this year also allowed the ministry the space to take immediate action when needed, she said.

“This includes the change in existing policies especially in terms of management of Covid-19 and health border measures as well as tightening SOPs on health screening at the country’s international entry points,” she said.

She said if necessary, the measures could be expanded to travellers from other countries as well, not just from China.

The ministry recently announced a number of measures on Covid-19 control for travellers from China.

Several countries such as Japan, India, the United States, Italy and Taiwan are among those which have imposed mandatory Covid-19 testing for travellers arriving from China.

The surging cases and the lack of reliable official data on the spread of Covid-19 in China has become a concern ahead of anticipated tourist and business travel arrivals from that country.

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