Health Ministry revises mask-wearing policy after WHO declares Covid-19 no longer global health emergency

Dr Zaliha Mustafa

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KUCHING, June 29: Following the announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on May 5, 2023 that the global emergency status for Covid-19 has ended, the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) has revised its existing standard operating procedure (SOP).

According to a press release issued today by MOH Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa, the SOP revision is based on the current situation assessment of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia, in light of WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 as a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ (PHEIC).

“MOH continues to implement various policies and activities for the control and prevention of the spread of Covid-19 infections in the community, despite the fact that some SOPs were relaxed during the transition phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, which began on April 1, 2022.

“In light of the nation’s successful management of Covid-19 and the resumption of national health services, the ministry has revised the SOP by referencing the WHO’s statement on the transition to long-term pandemic management,” she said.

Covid-19-positive patients and all visitors to healthcare facilities are now required to wear a mask in accordance with current Infection Prevention and Control practice.

Mask use is now strongly advised for those at high risk, such as elderly people, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women in crowded places, and areas with little ventilation.

Masks are also recommended for people experiencing respiratory distress, as well as for use in public transportation such as buses, trains, planes, taxis (including e-hailing services), employee buses/vans and school buses/vans.

Meanwhile, the isolation period for confirmed cases of Covid-19 would be reduced from seven to five days following the onset of initial symptoms.

The revised period is based on studies indicating the highest level of infectiousness occurred within the first five days.

The aforementioned policies regarding the wearing of masks and the isolation procedure become effective on July 5, 2023.

In addition, Dr Zaliha stated that the Declaration of Infected Local Areas in Malaysia, which was set to expire on June 30, 2023, has been extended for an additional six months until December 31, 2023.

She mentioned that the extension was required to allow the implementation of the provisions of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within Infected Local Areas) (National Recovery Plan) (Transition Phase to Endemic) Regulations 2022.

“This is required due to the emergence of new Covid-19 variants and subvariants,” she added.

Furthermore, the MOH Minister emphasised that the mass gatherings anticipated during the upcoming Hari Raya Aidiladha celebrations and state elections could contribute to the rise in cases and strain the existing health system if preventive and control measures are not effectively implemented.

More than three years after its original declaration on January 30, 2020, WHO lifted the global emergency status for Covid-19 on May 5, 2023.

WHO stated that the pandemic declared in March 2020 has not ended despite the end of the emergency phase, citing recent spikes in cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The agency reported that thousands of people continue to die each week from the coronavirus. — DayakDaily