I STRONGLY believe the Government should take seriously the current threat and surge of COVID-19 in China and even look into the need to consider some form of travel requirements for those travelling from China to Malaysia as a temporary emergency measure against the surging infections there.
This is critical for better protecting people and preventing another crisis from overwhelming our healthcare system.
We have seen how different countries, including Japan, the US, Italy, South Korea, and India, have imposed certain requirements for travellers from China, especially after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was very concerned about rising reports of severe cases across China after the country largely abandoned its “zero-COVID” policy.
I believe the Malaysian Government should consider some restrictions in order to prevent the rapid spread of infections in the country while balancing economic needs and livelihoods, particularly for essential travel.
This may be a requirement for travellers to be vaccinated (types of vaccines accepted have to be decided) and do a RT-PCR test at least two days before travel.
Upon arrival, we can do routine RTK-Ag testing, and those who test positive will be quarantined for seven days at designated facilities, and their samples will be used for genome analysis.
Moreover, those intending to travel to China must also be encouraged to get boosted and try to postpone any non-essential travels.
On a local level, crisis preparedness must be heightened, and healthcare facilities and human resources around the country must be empowered in case of any eventuality.
There must be clear data on ICU bed availability and emergency department contingency preparedness in case of a surge in cases.
The Government must also further encourage the public to mask up, especially indoors and in highly congested areas. This is especially true in light of New Year’s Eve festivities, which may result in an increase in cases locally.
I am not in favour of strict mask mandates where high fines are being imposed, but the Government must effectively communicate the importance of masking and prepare the public for any eventuality.
Furthermore, the Government should also encourage the public to optimise their protection against COVID-19 through the booster shots.
While I understand there is currently low uptake among the public, once they understand the urgency due to the situation in China, this may change and the government must be prepared. The Government should also consider the purchase of a bivalent vaccine as an option, which may deal with some hesitancy among people.
There also must be an audit of all stocks of antiviral medications such as Paxlovid, Remdesivir, or Evusheld for COVID-19 and allocation to possible higher-risk areas, especially health facilities at points of entry or in high-risk outbreak areas.
The Health Ministry can also do comprehensive modelling to estimate how many patients may require these medications and make decisions on further procurements based on that data.
The COVID-19 Inter-Agency Taskforce must also be on standby for any eventuality in order to boost public health emergency preparedness, prevention, and response against current and ongoing health threats such as COVID-19.
While many of these are difficult but important decisions to be made, especially in balancing the need to protect lives and livelihoods and help spur the economy, the Government must be pro-active and prepared for any eventuality.
All these measures must be communicated well, and all efforts must be transparent to build public confidence, which is important in any public health crisis. We must learn from our experience and be proactive rather than reactive when crises emerge. — Dec 29, 2022
Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen is the MP for Bandar Kuching.