KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Putrajaya should consider making wearing face masks outdoors mandatory again, scientist Bimo Ario Tejo suggested today in concern over a predicted new wave of infections with the highly transmissible Covid-19 Omicron BA.5 variant.
The medical chemistry expert at Universiti Putra Malaysia noted that many scientists believe Omicron BA.5 could be the next dominant strain triggering a new wave of infections in the country.
He pointed out that this is because BA.5 has a capability to prevent natural antibodies produced by infections from other variants before it, which means that those who have been infected by the earlier Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.2 can be reinfected.
“There’s no need to bring back the movement control order, but the government should consider making it mandatory to wear face masks outdoors again until the surge of cases subsides,” Bimo said in a statement.
Wearing face masks outdoors was no longer mandatory from May 1 this year.
The Health Ministry recorded 3,589 new Covid-19 cases and six new deaths from the disease as of midnight.
Bimo warned that BA.5 increases the risks of infection to already vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, and those who are immuno-compromised.
“The habit of Malaysians who place the elderly to live with their children and grandchildren exposes this vulnerable group to viral infections from family members who are active outside the home.
“Wearing face masks outdoors reduces the risk of family members carrying the virus from outside the home and infecting seniors living together,” Bimo explained.
He also echoed the Health Ministry’s calls for those who are at risk to get their second Covid-19 booster shots.
In addition to these two measures, Bimo said the government should increase the supply of antiviral drugs molnupiravir – better known by its brand name Lagevrio – and nirmatrelvir – brand Paxlovid – to treat vulnerable Covid-19 patients who are mildly symptomatic.
But he also said that all these three measures are only for the short-term.
He urged the government to prepare for long-term measures against the next waves.
“Viruses continue to mutate and new variants will continue to emerge.
“Efforts to develop effective vaccines for all variants need to be initiated,” he said.
He said the government needs to take proactive measures and empower domestic agencies for the country’s self-protection.
He suggested that Malaysia should design its own pan-coronavirus vaccines to provide immunity to all variants, taking into account the sequences of all viruses in the beta coronavirus group.
“Intranasal spray vaccines show better effectiveness in preventing infection than vaccines given by injection.
“The Malaysian Genome and Vaccine Institute needs to be mandated to undertake the manufacture of the new Covid-19 vaccine,” Bimo said.
He added that the search to find antiviral drugs needs to be intensified, adding that Malaysia cannot just rely on two types of existing antiviral drugs imported from abroad.
“We need to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic. Developed countries that produce vaccines and drugs put their own interests first before helping poor and developing countries.
“The ability to produce its own vaccines and drugs is a strong capital to meet the challenges of the new wave of the future,” he said.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced yesterday that Omicron BA.5 has been detected in Malaysia.
To fight the newest wave, he said the ministry will be stricter to ensure compliance with Covid-19 prevention rules and push even harder to raise vaccination rates among the populace as well as the second booster dose and use antiviral drugs for high-risk patients.
According to Khairy, a total of 16,152,022 people in the country have received their first booster shots as of last Thursday while those eligible for the second booster number 23,545,221 people.