Malaysia might delay easing of Covid-19 lockdown as vaccination target pushed back to mid-July

1.6 million people, or 5 per cent of Malaysia's population, had received both doses of vaccine.
1.6 million people, or 5 per cent of Malaysia's population, had received both doses of vaccine.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will only be able to fully inoculate 10 per cent of its population by mid-July, and not by the end of this month, potentially delaying the country's targeted easing of the lockdown to deal with a Covid-19 surge.

The target of fully vaccinating 10 per cent of the population, one of three key criteria to evaluate easing the ongoing lockdown, will not be fulfilled before June 28, said Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, the coordinating minister for immunisation.

The ongoing lockdown has been in place since June 1 and slated to end on June 28, with Malaysia then supposed to move into phase two, with a greater operational capacity allowed for economic sectors.

"By end-June, we estimate to be able to deliver eight million doses. Going by the ratio of first dose and second dose, we need to have administered 10.7 million doses in order to fully vaccinate 3.2 million of the population.

"We expect to reach 10.7 million doses in mid-July," Mr Khairy told a press briefing on Monday (June 21).

As at Sunday, 1.6 million people, or 5 per cent of Malaysia's population, have received both doses of the vaccine.

In total, 4.2 million people, or 12 per cent of the population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin last week said that the vaccination rate, along with critical-care bed availability and daily case tallies, will serve as indicators as the country aims to achieve herd immunity gradually and reopen its economy by the end of the year.

The Muhyiddin administration has been facing intense pressure from the public and constitutional monarchs to get a better handle on the Covid-19 crisis that has decimated jobs.

But it is fighting a tough battle against the disease this year, with the increasing vaccination being the only bright spot.

Yet another key criterion for easing the so-called full movement control order has also not been met.

Malaysia reported 4,611 new cases on Monday, the lowest figure in over a month but still above the threshold average of 4,000 cases, which the government has said would allow for the next phase of Covid-19 exit plan.

The one-week daily case average stood at over 5,500 cases, Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said on Monday, although he said he remained confident that the daily cases could dip below 4,000 before the end of June.

But hospital bed usage, especially for severely ill Covid-19 patients, also remained high, said Dr Adham, with 92 per cent of all intensive care unit (ICU) beds allocated for Covid-19 patients currently occupied. This was another closely tracked health indicator.

Another 66 per cent of hospital beds allocated for less severe Covid-19 patients have been taken up.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin said last week that ICU bed usage needs to return to more moderate levels for the current lockdown to be eased.

A further relaxation that would allow much of the economy to reopen, which the government calls phase three, has been targeted for the end of August. This is when the country aims to have the entire adult population of the capital Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital Putrajaya fully vaccinated.

Malaysia on Monday kick-started the third phase of its immunisation programme in Klang Valley, the main urban artery of the country comprising Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and most parts of Selangor state with a total population of more than seven million.

The third phase targets the general population aged 18 years and above.

Mr Khairy said a large majority of senior citizens and people in the high-risk groups who had registered for vaccination in Kuala Lumpur and the country's most populous state Selangor have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and as such, the government will "proactively" move towards inoculating the rest of the adult population in Malaysia's main economic region.