Strict border control to block South African Covid-19 variant

Dr Andrew Kiyu Dawie Usop (top right) speaks during the virtual talk. At bottom left is Dr Radziah Mohamad.

KUCHING: Strict border control is still necessary to prevent the South African Covid-19 variant, said to be more contagious, from entering Sarawak as well as to curb imported positive cases.

Sarawak Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Group (Scovag) chairman Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Kiyu Dawie Usop noted that the South African variant was already present in Peninsular Malaysia.

“If it comes here, it will be very dangerous for us because it is very difficult for us to keep track of it. We do not want the variant to come in,” he said during Sarawak Development Institute’s (SDI) brown bag virtual talk on ‘Sarawak Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign’ held via Zoom today.

He said that even though the current spikes in Covid-19 cases in Sarawak were mainly locally transmitted, it was still necessary to maintain border control and quarantine measures.

“Looking at the percentage of positive cases among those who are quarantined when coming into Sarawak compared to the samples we take within Sarawak, the percentage of positive cases among those coming in is much higher compared to those in Sarawak.

“Even if we detect 10 cases through quarantine, it is very good already as we can prevent the 10 from multiplying.”

He said the key reason for the high number of cases reported now was the meeting of people, especially when face masks were removed. He said the risk of infection was exacerbated when people gathered for funerals or birthdays, involving talking and singing – which could spread the virus further.

Touching on applying non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to curb the spread of Covid-19, he explained that these were divided into personal responsibilities (physical distancing, use of face masks, hand hygiene, and so on) and shared responsibilities (fast and sensitive testing and tracing, ventilation, quarantine and isolation, and so on).

Dr Kiyu, who is also a professor of Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), stressed that no single intervention alone was perfect, but once they were put all together it would then be difficult for the virus to spread.

“We have not been as effective (in our NPIs) in 2021 compared to 2020. The main difference is that in 2020, we had very strict movement control orders (MCOs). In 2021, even though it is called MCO, it is as if it is not an MCO.”

He said last year during the MCO, the social and work contacts of cases had decreased. However, he said now the number of contacts had increased whereby one case could have 50 to 100 close contacts and each of these close contacts would have another 50 to 100 secondary contacts.

Furthermore, he pointed out that the virus was now present throughout the state, including rural areas.

“As for reducing the number of severe cases, to do this we have to find, test, trace, isolate, and support cases so that we can detect cases early, and if they are severe then they can be treated early before it is too late.”