Border surveillance ramped up | The Star
PETALING JAYA: Aircraft flying in from China will have their wastewater tested for Covid-19 while passengers will be screened for fever at Malaysian international ports of entry.
These are among the measures spelt out by the Health Ministry ahead of China relaxing its travel restrictions starting Jan 8, with Chinese tourists expected to head abroad for holidays, including to Malaysia.
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa said wastewater samples from aircraft will be sent to the National Public Health Laboratory for RT-PCR tests and then sent for genome sequencing if Covid-19 is detected.
“All arrivals from abroad, including from China, whom we detect to have fever or Covid-19-like symptoms through the screening or self-declaration, will be referred to a quarantine centre or the Health Department.
“Should Covid-19 be suspected, a test will be conducted,” she said in a statement yesterday.
Travellers with influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) symptoms who seek services at health facilities and have a travel history to China within the last 14 days, or have a history of contact with individuals who have a history of travel to China within the last fortnight, will also undergo an RTK-Ag Covid-19 test.
The sample will then be sent for genome sequencing if positive, she said.
To improve the detection of any new variants, Dr Zaliha said the ministry has been continuing its surveillance on samples for cases of ILI through 59 clinics and SARI in 18 hospitals throughout the country.
Samples are sent to national health laboratories and the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) for genome sequencing if found positive for Covid-19, she added.
“In strengthening Covid-19 surveillance in the community, environment and laboratory, further tests on positive samples of Covid-19 using the Whole Genomic Sequencing (WGS) technique were implemented to detect the early entry of new variants into the country,” she said.
As at Dec 24, Omicron was the top variant detected in Malaysia at 66.17% followed by Delta (32.69%), Beta (1.06%) and Alpha (0.08%).
However, there has been no sudden increase in Covid-19 caseloads in the country nor increased hospitalisations, she said.
This is due to public health measures and the herd immunity resulting from extensive Covid-19 vaccination coverage, she added.
“Overall, the trend of Covid-19 cases is under controlled conditions in most countries around the world including Malaysia,” said Dr Zaliha.
She then referred to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) weekly Covid-19 report in China, which recorded a total of 148,659 cases with 442 deaths between Dec 11 and Dec 17.
Dr Zaliha said with Malaysia at risk of infections from abroad, her ministry continues to improve its preparedness and response to face any possible increase in cases and Covid-19 deaths as experienced when the Delta variant hit.
Besides strengthening Covid-19 surveillance to prepare for any possible surges, other measures being taken include vaccination drives, she added.
She said that as at Dec 28, a total of 27,531,220 people or 84.3% of the Malaysian population has completed their primary vaccination but only 16,278,036 people or 49.8% of the population have received the first booster dose and 626,896 people (1.9%) the second booster.
“The Health Ministry strongly encourages especially those at high risk to get vaccinated to reduce the probability of getting a serious infection and death.
“Those who have not completed the primary dose or booster dose can make an appointment through MySejahtera or call a nearby health clinic,” she said.
The ministry is also offering walk-in vaccinations at public health clinics and public hospitals starting Jan 9 next year to high-risk individuals.
These include those with comorbidities, senior citizens aged 60 years and above, or individuals at risk of severe symptoms and Covid-19 complications.
Administration of the Paxlovid antiviral drug will also be done for eligible patients, said Dr Zaliha.
She added that the ministry also strengthened its Covid-19 management through digitisation implemented with the automated FTTIS (Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support) approach, and is also empowering the community through engagement and continuous advocacy.
The last includes getting people to take disease prevention measures, assess their personal health status, get required treatments and adopt new norms that can help curb the spread of Covid-19.
“The declaration of Malaysia as an ‘Infected Local Area,’ which will end on Dec 31 this year, has been extended until June 30, 2023, to facilitate the ministry in carrying out activities to prevent and control Covid-19 infections,” she said, adding this extension was gazetted on Dec 27.
In addition to the strategies outlined by the ministry, the community is also advised to adopt a healthy and safe lifestyle.
“Malaysians are recommended to always practise TRIIS (Test, Report, Isolate, Inform, Seek).
“For those at high risk, including individuals with comorbidities, you are strongly encouraged to wear face masks especially in crowded areas or places, including gatherings, while those with symptoms are also encouraged to wear a mask and conduct self-testing for Covid-19,” she said.
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