Covid-19: Malaysia cuts booster wait amid Omicron fears

<p>Travellers arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) under Malaysia-Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) programme, after travel between the two countries was halted due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Sepang, Malaysia No
Given the spread of the variant globally, there was no reason to continue with a travel ban against countries in Africa, said health minister Khairy Jamaluddin. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has shortened the interval for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots amid concerns that the highly transmissible Omicron variant is already spreading domestically. 

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Tuesday (Dec 28) that all adults will be eligible for a booster jab three months after their second dose, halved from the original six months’ wait, regardless of the brand of vaccine they received initially. 

The three-month interval previously applied only to recipients of the China-made Sinovac vaccine, which authorities said showed waning protection against the virus. 

Mr Khairy said on Tuesday that the effectiveness of booster doses is well documented in  Sarawak, where cases have been on a steep decline after more than half of the adults in the state received  booster shots.

Malaysia also announced it was lifting its travel ban on eight African countries which had been imposed to halt the spread of Omicron. Instead, the eight countries - South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Malawi  - will be added to its list of high-risk countries. 

Those entering Malaysia from designated high-risk countries will need to undergo quarantine and wear a digital tracker. Mr Khairy also advised against non-essential travel to  high-risk countries until the situation stabilises. 

Malaysia has 62 confirmed Omicron cases and another 306 suspected cases were detected last week, pending full genome sequencing. Mr Khairy said the government hoped to slow the spread of the variant with the booster shots.

A large majority of eligible adults is expected to receive appointments for their booster doses by February, he said.

Malaysia has also banned large-scale New Year's Eve events and gatherings to minimise the risk of another Covid-19 wave, while those attending private events are advised to self-test beforehand. 

The country recorded 2,897 cases on Tuesday, the third consecutive day infections have stayed below the 3,000 mark. The Covid-19 infectivity rate is at 0.93, signalling that infections are slowing.

Despite holding two state elections recently and lifting its domestic travel bans, the country has not seen a fresh wave of cases, Mr Khairy said. 

“We did not see a surge after the Melaka elections, Sarawak elections, and also Christmas celebrations because everyone followed the protocols. So let’s keep that up,” he said at the  press briefing. 

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