BY NURQALBY MOHD REDA
WHEN the government gave the green light for fully-vaccinated people to travel interstate beginning Oct 11, many Malaysians hit the road almost immediately to go on a holiday or visit their parents or family members who they had not met for months.
The worrying part is, in their excitement to reunite with their loved ones, people may ignore the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that have now become a part of life to keep Covid-19 at bay. Travellers have also been encouraged to perform Covid-19 self-tests before setting out on their journeys to avert any spike in new cases.
As the Covid-19 virus is still causing a sizeable number of new infections nationwide every day, the situation raises concerns over the safety of children below the age of 12, especially when they are taken to crowded places such as the rest and recreation areas along the highways, restaurants and tourist attractions.
The Malaysian government has not decided yet whether to include children below 12 in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK).
Commenting on this matter, occupational health, emergency and public health specialist Dr Hanafiah Bashirun advised the public to keep themselves safe by restricting their movements and refraining from visiting too many places.
“The main reason the interstate travel prohibition was lifted was to allow people who have not visited their parents for a long time to return to their kampung, and not to go on vacation here and there en route to their village.
“Making stops at too many places will put their children at risk, especially those who are not vaccinated. Not only that, there is also the possibility of them getting infected and transmitting the virus to their elderly folks as well,” he said.
He said parents with young children should plan their trips well and ensure that they are not exposed to large crowds.
“If they are going on a long-distance trip, it will be ideal for them to pack whatever food and beverages they will need for the journey. If they have to stop at a restaurant, then one of the family members can step out to buy food (which they can eat in the car)… at any rate, one must always make sure their hands are sanitised before getting into the vehicle again,” he said.
SOPs should also be observed when they stop at a surau or mosque, he said, adding that the most basic SOP to adhere to in order to avoid any infection is physical distancing.
“And, upon your arrival at your kampung, you must do a self-test as it is the best way to detect the virus early because I am sure you are not only meeting your parents but also your siblings who would be coming from different locations,” he added.
Dr Hanafiah also recommended performing Covid-19 self-tests regularly during their stay in the kampung, pointing out that this is important as it will ensure the safety of their close contacts who include their children.
“It will be good to keep a stock of self-test kits with you because they are cheaper than doing swab tests (at the clinic). If you test positive, then the other family members can go for a swab test at a clinic to ascertain their health status,” he added.
Avoid crowded places
Meanwhile, Hospital Universiti Teknologi MARA deputy director (clinical) Associate Prof Dr Ahmad Izuanuddin Ismail said taking children to congested areas will not only expose them to Covid-19 risks but also other bacterial infections that can affect their respiratory tract and lungs.
“It’s difficult for us to tell children aged below five to follow SOPs. Also, it’s not advisable for young children to wear a mask because it will cause breathing difficulty.
“Although we have gotten used to Covid-19, parents must remember that other bacteria or viruses are also present in our environment and can easily infect children. In fact, influenza and pneumococcal infections can be worse than Covid-19,” he told Bernama.
In respect of this, Dr Ahmad Izuanuddin, who is an internal medicine (general) and respiratory medicine specialist, urged parents to ensure their children have received all the vaccines under the National Immunisation Programme for children and infants to protect them against diseases such as influenza, pneumonia, whooping cough and Haemophilus influenzae.
He also recommended that Covid-19 tests be done for children who travel interstate with their parents if they have symptoms such as fever and cold.
“It’s best to take children to the clinic for their Covid-19 test. Self-testing may be difficult in the case of children as you would need to get their saliva sample and if the test has to be done repeatedly, they may feel uncomfortable,” he said.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has also urged individuals planning to return to their kampung to perform the RTK-Antigen test first to ensure the safety of their family members. – Bernama