Sarawak Must Be Cautious Before Moving Into A Full Endemic-type Strategy

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Media Statement by YB Kelvin Yii:

The Ministry of Health and Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) must be transparent and inform the public on their plans whether on the short term or long-term to educate and prepare the public on their approach towards Covid-19.

The strategy and communications must be comprehensive and specific to allay concerns of the public especially in view of the surge of cases in Sarawak, prepare them for the “new normal” and also very importantly, to prepare businesses to adapt to this new normal.

We have seen the Minister of Health YB Khairy Jamaluddin mentioned that Labuan and to a certain extend Sarawak are already in an endemic phase where we should start living with the virus.

State Ministers’ including the advisor to SDMC Dr Sim Kui Hian has mentioned few times how we must learn to live with Covid-19. However, what they failed to do, is to communicate comprehensively, educate the public what does that mean.

What is the “new normal” when it comes to the endemic-style (living with Covid-19) strategy?

That is why I urge SDMC to share their plans and strategies when it comes to our approach to Covid-19 in Sarawak especially in view of the fundamentals of Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FTTIS) even in such endemic-style strategy.

With that said, I caution SDMC and MOH from shifting into full endemic-style (living with Covid-19) strategy in Sarawak without first addressing some of the fundamental public health measures.

While the vaccination rate in Sarawak is commendable, but for us to co-exist with the virus in an ambience of safety and not causing danger to us over time, there is still much to be done before we make that important decision to shift.

I would like to suggest few parameters we need to fulfil:

(1) Vaccine total population coverage of at least 80-90%, not just adult coverage. This includes children and those that may not be included in our out-of-date census.

We must move away from purely “herd immunity concepts” to high levels of total population vaccination.

This includes comprehensive plans for a booster shot policy, especially for front liners and high-risk groups.

Even when we move to high total population vaccination rates, we still need to keep in place the key public health mitigation measures.

(2) Comprehensive National Testing Plan in place

So even in an endemic strategy, there should not be an abandonment of the FTTIS fundamentals. That is why I disagree with the Deputy Chief Ministry YB James Masing suggestion that we should discourage asymptomatic from testing, but instead shift it to workplace testing or even testing before social events under the National Testing Plan.

Such plan will outline the testing strategy for all businesses and workplace. Instead of categorising them as essential or non-essential, they should be categorised as lower or higher risk. With that, each category will require a certain SOP for testing, with higher risk industries required to test more frequently.

This will also require the Government to subsidise self-test kits to make it affordable and accessible for all including the SMEs and incorporate it into their “new normal”

(3) Proper enforcement plan for the National Testing Plan

To ensure that the testing strategy is properly implemented and the make the necessary report if there are positive cases detected in the premises. In order to do so, the local council, The Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH),the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) among others must be empowered to carry out such enforcement while promoting good and safe practices at workplace when it comes to Covid-19.

(4) Investment into our public health services to deal with possible surges especially in view of new variants. This includes improving our contact tracing mechanism which failed and caused us to be in the current situation that we are in. All public health tools must be improved including the support for our public health staff.

(5) Aggressive communication and education on what the “new normal” is, including strict adherence to the National Testing Plan and all other necessary SOPs. This must be started even now to paint a picture of what the future will be including what to expect and react in the case of a possible surge.

Once the public is better educated, compliance will be much better.

Until we have fulfilled these parameters, I believe that Sarawak is not there yet when it comes to shifting to full endemic-style strategy. If we, do it too soon, without preparing other fundamentals, i am concern it can still trigger a new wave especially among our high-risk groups and those yet to be vaccinated including children and overwhelm the hospitals and even ICU capacity.

Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching