Coronavirus Global situation

Business owners in Malaysia prepare for fresh Covid-19 wave

The infectivity rate has risen - five weeks after end of a ban on interstate movement

Malaysian restaurant owner Fazilah Kamsah now focuses on online and takeaway orders, and is turning away dine-in customers until Covid-19 case numbers stabilise.

Similarly, traditional clothes retailer Rangeeta Kaur has barred customers from trying on dresses at her shop.

Both women are among some business owners who are taking measures on their own by limiting physical interactions with customers as Malaysia braces itself for a new wave of Covid-19 infections.

"We don't know people's hygiene practices. I know it's a turn-off when you cannot try on the clothes you're interested in, but I decided that I'd rather practise strict health protocols to brace myself for a new wave," Madam Kaur told The Straits Times.

"I've lost two relatives to Covid-19. We were told that they contracted the virus during an outing, so I'm more careful now," added the 56-year-old entrepreneur based in Klang.

Madam Fazilah said living with the pandemic for nearly two years has taught her what to prioritise.

"As seen in the news, several health experts have anticipated a new wave in December. We've lived with the pandemic for close to two years now, so I'm not going to sit back and wait for a directive from the authorities," Madam Fazilah, 49, who is based in Cheras, told The Straits Times.

"By now, we're aware of the dos and don'ts, and it is precisely why I'm taking my own initiative to protect my business, workers, myself and my family by opting for this (decision). Ultimately, we need to assess the situation on our own and re-strategise to make sure that we can survive while keeping safe."

Malaysia's health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah recently warned of a possible fresh wave of Covid-19 infections, revealing that the country's R0 (R-nought) value - the average number of new infections arising from each case - had climbed back to 1.0 on Nov 11, about five weeks after a ban on interstate movement was lifted.

The last time the country reported an infectivity rate above 1.0 was on Aug 31 (1.02), when Covid-19 cases stood at 20,897.

Although the R0 dipped slightly to 0.99 as at Wednesday, 11 states and federal territories still have an R0 higher than 1.00, indicating that infections are accelerating.

The federal territory of Labuan has the highest R0 of 1.18, followed by Putrajaya (1.12).

On Nov 6, the country's R0 level was 0.91.

The country's daily Covid-19 cases have also been yo-yo-ing between 4,000 and nearly 5,000 for the past several weeks.

Yesterday, Malaysia recorded 6,144 new Covid-19 cases, a big jump from the past few days when the number of cases hovered around the 5,000 mark.

As at press time, the nationwide hospital bed utilisation rate stood at 69.8 per cent.

In Malaysia, 76.7 per cent of the population - or 25,049,738 people - have been fully inoculated, while 78.7 per cent are at least partially vaccinated.

Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist and biostatistician Malina Osman said that with evidence of antibodies waning among the fully inoculated, those eligible for booster doses must turn up for their appointments.

"I would suggest a walk-in vaccination for those eligible for booster shots, as well as those who have yet to receive the Covid-19 vaccine," she was quoted as saying by local news site New Straits Times on Nov 17.

Associate Professor Malina also suggested that to encourage vaccination, Malaysia should emulate Singapore's move of requiring those who choose not to be vaccinated to pay for their own medical bills if they are admitted to hospitals or Covid-19 treatment facilities.

"Perhaps the approach by Singapore can be 'modified' in our country through certain mechanisms. For example, those who reject vaccination (without valid health reasons) need to pay a certain premium (if they get infected and wish to be treated at government hospitals)," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2021, with the headline 'Business owners in Malaysia prepare for fresh Covid-19 wave'. Subscribe