KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysians have been told to be "sensible" and self-test for Covid-19 ahead of the widely anticipated lifting of a ban on interstate travel as the country transitions to "living with the virus".
"We have reached 90 per cent of adult vaccinations, so now it is self-monitoring," Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Thursday (Oct 7). A total of 88.8 per cent of adults have been fully vaccinated.
The government had said previously that the ban on interstate travel would be lifted once 90 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated.
When interstate travel resumes, roadblocks will be dismantled and police permits no longer required to cross state lines.
"We can't have roadblocks and check every single person who leaves and if they are not vaccinated, make them do a self-test. I think people will become angry if there is a traffic jam," Mr Khairy told a news conference.
"It is not like the Langkawi travel bubble, where there are not that many people and you can test them at the airport. It is impossible to check everyone," he said, referring to the Langkawi pilot travel bubble for fully vaccinated tourists.
"Now, as we move to transition out of the pandemic, we have to be honest and we must be responsible."
Separately, in a tweet, health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah urged the people to continue to take precautions.
"In next couple of days interstate travel restrictions will be lifted. It's important to take all precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands and physical distancing even for those vaccinated," he tweeted on Thursday.
At the news conference, Mr Khairy also elaborated on the decision to procure an antiviral pill to treat Covid-19 infections.
He said Malaysia decided to buy 150,000 courses of the drug as there are still a number of breakthrough infections and seriously ill Covid-19 patients.
Mr Khairy had earlier said that the move to buy the drug was part of the government's preparations to "transition to the endemic phase of living with the Covid-19 virus".
The antiviral pill was developed by pharmaceutical company Merck in the United States and Canada, together with Miami-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. Merck is known as MSD in other parts of the world.
Studies by MSD have found that the drug, molnupiravir, lowers the rate of hospital admissions by 50 per cent and is effective against coronavirus variants such as the Delta, Mu and Gamma variants, Mr Khairy said.
The Malaysian health authorities had previously singled out the Delta variant as the dominant Covid-19 strain in the country.
Mr Khairy emphasised that taking the pill does not mean that vaccinations were no longer necessary.
"Molnupiravir cannot prevent infections. It is only beneficial to those who are already infected. We need both the antiviral medication and vaccines to reduce the burden of Covid-19 ," he said.
Molnupiravir targets an enzyme that the virus needs to make copies of itself by introducing errors into its genetic code.
Data from clinical trials suggests that the drug is most effective when given early in the course of infection, said MSD.
Interim trial results released last Friday showed that the drug may reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by half for patients who are at risk of severe disease.
Singapore on Wednesday inked a supply and purchase agreement for the drug.
Australia has also entered into advance supply agreements with MSD to buy 300,000 courses of the drug, while South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan are in talks with the company to buy the drug.
Professor Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, chairman of the Malaysian government's Covid-19 Epidemiological Analysis and Strategies Task Force, told The Straits Times: "Antiviral drugs like this offer an alternative means to treat and perhaps reduce transmission in patients.
"Molnupiravir is supposed to suppress replication of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, so, hopefully, it will prove effective against variants… Whether the virus mutates to try to evade the drug remains to be seen," he said, referring to the official name of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
Malaysia has seen a downward trend in the number of daily reported Covid-19 infections, which peaked at 24,599 on Aug 26. The positivity rate - or the percentage of confirmed cases against the number of tests conducted - currently stands at slightly above 5 per cent. It was the highest at 15.3 per cent on Aug 31.
"The good news is that the test positivity rates are generally declining and pressure on hospital beds are reducing now. So the situation is improving, but the authorities need to keep a careful watch on the situation," said Prof Awang Bulgiba.
Malaysia reported 9,890 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total cumulative number of infections to 2,313,727. The country has fully vaccinated 64 per cent of its population.