Much still needs to be done before endemic phase

Dr Kelvin Yii
Dr Kelvin Yii

KUCHING: More needs to be done to prepare Sarawak for its transition from the Covid-19 pandemic to the endemic phase.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii added that the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) must be transparent and inform the public about their plans — short term or long-term — to educate and prepare the public on their approach towards Covid-19 and prepare businesses to adapt to this new normal. 

“What is the new normal during the endemic phase?

“That is why I urge the SDMC to share its plans and strategies for Covid-19 in Sarawak, especially in view of the fundamentals of find, test, trace, isolate and support (FTTIS) even in the endemic phase.

“With that said, I caution the SDMC and MOH from shifting into the endemic phase in Sarawak without first addressing some of the fundamental public health measures,” he said in a Facebook post on Monday (Sept 6).

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

“Thus, I would like to suggest a few parameters we need to fulfil. Firstly, have at least 80 to 90 percent of the total population including children vaccinated,” he said.

Secondly, he added, a comprehensive National Testing Plan and the FTTIS fundamentals must be in place.

“That is why I disagree with Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing’s suggestion that we should discourage asymptomatic Covid-19 patients from testing. Instead, shift it to workplace testing or even testing before social events under the National Testing Plan.

“Such a plan will outline the testing strategy for all businesses and the 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 certain standard operating procedures (SOPs) for testing, with higher risk industries required to test more frequently,” he said.

Dr Yii added that the government must subsidise the self-test kits to make them affordable and accessible for all including the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Thirdly, there must be a proper enforcement plan for the National Testing Plan to ensure that the testing strategy is properly implemented and to make the necessary reports 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 the workplaces when it comes to Covid-19,” he said.

Fourthly, the MP said there was also a need for an investment in the public health services to deal with possible surges, especially in view of new Covid-19 variants.

“And lastly, there must be aggressive communication and education on the ‘new normal’, including strict adherence to the National Testing Plan and all other necessary SOPs,” he said.

He stressed all these measures must be started even now to paint a picture of what the future would 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 an endemic phase.

“If we do it too soon, without preparing other fundamentals, I am concerned 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,” said Dr Yii.