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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 -- Efforts to transition to the endemic phase has been paused for a while as the government looks to find out more about the new COVID-19 variant - Omicron - which is said to be more contagious than the Delta variant.
Senior Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the government had noted that as of now, the variant had not only spread in South Africa, but also to several other countries including Italy, Denmark, Australia, United Kingdom, Belgium and Hong Kong.
“Although we have not heard of any cases in our country to date, precautionary actions will continue to be implemented.
“We are concerned that everything that we had planned before this, the announcements on the relaxation of SOPs (standard operating procedures), the seven criteria that we hoped to announce in the near future on the endemic phase, all this may be affected if we do not monitor the spread of Omicron more closely,” he said at a press conference after the COVID-19 Ministerial Quartet Meeting at the Parliament building here today.
The government had previously set seven criteria that needed to be achieved before the Ministry of Health (MOH) could declare Malaysia as entering the endemic phase of living with the COVID-19 virus.
This includes the number of beds being utilised in hospitals, intensive care units (ICUs) and COVID-19 Low-Risk Quarantine and Treatment Centres (PKRCs); testing capacity at laboratories and the rate of COVID-19 positive cases.
Hishammuddin said the MOH was also seeking more information on the incubation period, symptoms and infectiousness of the Omicron variant, and would make an announcement on the matter soon.
In the meantime, he said the government would impose stricter border controls on countries where the new variant was prevalent.
Commenting on South African president Cyril Ramaphosa's call for the lifting of travel restrictions on the country, Hishammuddin said the decision was based on security risks and advice from the MOH.
“What the MOH has decided is not too different from what has been done by other countries out there, I believe the African countries understand that it (travel restriction) is not related to diplomacy or geopolitics, but about health.
"We do not want to jeopardise what we have been doing for one and a half years with irresponsible actions," he said.
Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday urged countries around the world to immediately lift the travel ban to the country, which he described as being ‘unjustified and unfair’
Meanwhile, on the risk of reopening the Malaysia-Singapore border via the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) following the spread of the new variant, Hishammuddin said it was being monitored.
“The Quartet meeting took note of the discussions between the two Prime Ministers (Malaysia and Singapore) on the potential of having more destinations (with the VTL implemented), such as Singapore to Penang, Langkawi, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
"I have asked all parties to continue to think and discuss, but we will not make a decision until we know the real effects and impact of this new variant," he said.