We cannot let our guards down with Omicron

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Media Statement by YB Kelvin Yii:

The Federal Government and the Ministry of health must increase our public healthcare and genomic surveillance capacity and ramp up Covid vaccination exponentially so that we can pro-actively deal with the threat to ensure there will not be an uncontrollable surge that will overwhelm our health system again and cause unnecessary deaths to our people.

Based on reports from the Ministry of Health, there is currently 245 cases detected in Malaysia, with 12 cases of local transmission, and 7 cases reported on the 6th of January 2022 in Sarawak alone. This is of course a cause for concern as this may be just a tip of an iceberg due to the lack of genomic surveillance in our country as we are not sequencing every single cases here in Malaysia.

While many reports have said that the severity of the Omicron variant may be milder, but its impact should not be underestimated, and we all must not let our guard down and maintain our preparedness for fighting the pandemic. Even the WHO yesterday mentioned that Omicron should not be dismissed as mild, as people around the globe are still dying from the disease.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the record numbers of people catching the new variant (which is rapidly out-competing the previously dominant Delta variant in many countries) meant hospitals were being overwhelmed.

“While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, ESPECIALLY IN THOSE VACCINATED, it does not mean it should be categorized as mild.”

So, in my view, if not properly handled, a full blown Omicron wave in Malaysia where we will see vertical surge of cases like in other countries, may be even more damaging than Delta itself. We cannot just look at the severity as it virulence or damage it causes to one individual, but more importantly we also need to consider its impact on the healthcare system.

Due to high transmissibility of Omicron, we may experience a high surge of patient volume at the background of already low healthcare manpower, whom many are already suffering burnout due to the long period battling this pandemic.

When patient volume increases, inevitably the high-risk portion will require closer medical attention or hospitalisation which will them swamp the healthcare system again. When the healthcare capacity cannot accommodate the increase, it will result in sub-optimum care due to lack of manpower or even medical equipment, affecting the prognosis of the patient.

This variant also increase risk for healthcare workers to be infected causing the lost of manpower on the ground either from isolation, quarantine or hospitalisation. So this again will lead to sub-optimum care and thus resulting is higher chances of disease complications and death.

That is why we must not let our guard down and must really double down on vaccination campaigns and propping up hospitals as they confront a large influx of patients. A “booster dose campaign” must be launched to exponentially increase our booster dose uptake to ensure the most vulnerable are getting the most optimum protection.

Currently just 43% of those aged 60 years above or 20% of total population are boosted against Covid-19 In Malaysia. Studies have shown Omicron Causes 3 times as many reinfections as Delta. That is why the rollout of the booster dose and to cover those unvaccinated must be urgently prioritised. Recent study in Malaysia shows that death rates are 43 times higher among unvaccinated.

That is why the government must also improve their risk communication and allay concerns of those still hesitant to take the vaccine or even take the booster dose. Many of the hesitancy is due to mixing vaccine (heterologous vaccination) and is prevalent especially in certain elderly communities.

The rollout of booster must also improve. Many turn up at PPVs to receive their dose, but due to lack of manpower and government assistance, many of these PPVs are often congested and many have to queue up for long hours even under the sun.

That is why I urge the Ministry of Health to really step in and increase capacity to fasten the rollout process of booster dose especially in view of the threat of Omicron.

Currently there are about only 1500 GPs involved out of more than 7000 that are registered. That is why more can be done to incentivise more GPs to be part of the rollout as well as set up more PPVs assisted by the Ministry of Health just like how it was done before for the first 2 doses.

More must be done by the government to give assurance to the people that they are in control. New variants like Omicron are a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and that is why we must remain vigilant and not remain complacent.

Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching