Covid-19 variants in China also detected in Malaysia

The health ministry is urging the public to get a vaccine booster shot as soon as possible. PHOTO: REUTERS

PETALING JAYA – Covid-19 variants and sub-variants found in China have been detected in Malaysia, said Malaysia’s Health Minister Zaliha Mustafa.

This is based on information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), she said, without specifying which variants, 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,” Dr Zaliha said.

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

Multiple reports have attributed the surge of infections in China to the sub-variant of Omicron named BF.7.

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 admissions and deaths as well as vaccinations delivered and vaccination status, especially among 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 against serious symptoms and fatalities. 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 supplies are expected to arrive in early 2023.

Bivalent vaccines provide protection against the original Sars-CoV-2 virus and the Omicron sub-variants such as 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 per cent of Malaysians receiving their first booster dose and 1.9 per cent their second.

She also advised the public to observe precautionary and safety measures as well as to practise TRIIS (trace, report, isolate, inform and seek treatment).

Dr Zaliha said the ministry was also weighing public considerations 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.

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

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

The surge in cases and the lack of reliable official data on the spread of Covid-19 in China have become concerns ahead of anticipated tourist and business travel arrivals from the country.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 surveillance using sewage water conducted from June to Dec 31 last year, showed that 96.5 per cent, or 28 out of 29 samples taken from international entry points contained the presence of the Omicron variant, said Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

He said the results came from testing at the National Public Health Laboratory while one more sample was still being tested.

In the same period, the lab also received 301 samples from 15 locations representing each state in the country.

“288 samples (95.7 per cent) had the presence of SARS-CoV-2, and positive for Omicron. Three had no presence, while 10 are still being tested,” he said in a statement on Monday.

He said the samples taken were aimed to be supplementary surveillance for Covid-19.

Tan Sri Noor Hisham said detecting the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 in sewage water samples provided early warning by allowing them to get an idea on the virus density trend, identify the variants in the community and monitor the intervention controls’ effectiveness in general. THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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