KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has fully vaccinated 80 per cent of its adult population, and moves on now to inoculating teenagers and rolling out booster shots to high-risk groups, ahead of its transition to an endemic Covid-19 phase next month.
It has also lifted more restrictions and announced that a pilot plan to resume domestic travel will be expanded to include Genting Highlands, Melaka and Tioman island.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced on their respective Twitter accounts that the 80 per cent milestone was achieved at noon on Tuesday (Sept 21).
Mr Khairy added in his tweet that the Special Committee on Covid-19 Vaccines Supply will now focus on tracking down the remaining 20 per cent of adults who are yet to be vaccinated.
Malaysia had initially planned to achieve 100 per cent adult vaccination by the end of October.
But the more transmissible Delta strain has forced the country to abandon the goal and instead shift towards an endemic phase of reopening the economy and living with the virus, while vaccinating as many people as possible.
The Ministry of Health's Covidnow website said that 57.1 per cent of Malaysia's total population had been fully vaccinated as at Monday.
The vaccination programme was first targeted at those aged 18 years and above. The country started vaccinating teenagers between 12 and 17 years old this month, with an aim to have at least 60 per cent of adolescents partially vaccinated by early November. It is targeting to fully vaccinate all adolescents before schools reopen in 2022.
It will also start offering booster vaccine shots to front-liners and high-risk groups from the first week of October, following concerns that vaccine efficacy dwindles after several months - as seen in the highly vaccinated Sarawak state, the country's worst-hit region.
Malaysia recorded 15,759 cases on Tuesday, a slight increase from Monday's 14,345 cases. Overall infection numbers, however, have been showing signs of decline after an August peak where cases averaged over 20,000 a day.
The number of daily cases has been below the 20,000 mark for more than 10 days, while the country's R0 (R-naught) value - or the average number of new infections generated by each case - has now dropped to 0.93, a sign that the virus is slowing down.
Covid-19 deaths remained high, with 301 deaths recorded on Monday, although health authorities have said that many of the cases were backlogged deaths and those who died without seeking medical treatment.
The weekly average of deaths due to Covid-19 was on the decline, the authorities said, standing at 108 cases on Monday
Malaysia, which aims to fully reopen its economy by the end of next month, on Tuesday announced more relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.
Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Hishamuddin Hussein said that all restaurants and multipurpose stores will be allowed to operate from 6am to midnight, regardless of the recovery phase of the region where they are located.
States and territories in Malaysia are in various phases of the four-stage Covid-19 exit strategy, but as vaccination rates are ramped up, all are expected to be in the final phase four by the end of October.
Malaysia initiated its first domestic tourism bubble pilot project on Sept 16 - allowing fully vaccinated individuals to travel to the island of Langkawi for holidays. After a week, the project was declared a success by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry, as pre-departure Covid-19 screenings showed single-digit positive test returns, Minister Nancy Shukri revealed on Tuesday.
She also said three other tourism spots are set to reopen on Oct 1 under similar travel bubbles for the vaccinated - Genting Highlands, Melaka and Tioman island.
Currently, dine-in services, as well as sports and social activities are all limited to fully vaccinated individuals in all the states in Malaysia.