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Malaysia lifts COVID-19 travel ban on 8 African countries, cuts booster interval amid Omicron fears

Malaysia lifts COVID-19 travel ban on 8 African countries, cuts booster interval amid Omicron fears

A man wearing a protective mask uses his phone as the Petronas Twin Towers are seen in the background, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Apr 12, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has lifted a travel ban on eight southern African countries that had been among the first to report the Omicron variant of the coronvirus, citing the greater spread of the variant worldwide, its health minister said on Tuesday (Dec 28).

Meanwhile, authorities would cut the wait time for booster vaccine doses amid concerns over the spread of Omicron, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin told reporters.

Authorities have detected 306 suspected Omicron cases out of 366 samples from travellers who had tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival between Dec 21 and 25, he said.

"We are still waiting for results from the whole genome sequencing to confirm," he said, adding that Malaysia has reported only one confirmed case of local transmission so far.

Khairy said given the rapid spread of the variant globally, there was no reason to continue with a travel ban against countries in Africa.

The eight countries, which include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, will remain on a list of nations deemed as high-risk, with travellers from those nations subject to additional restrictions upon arrival, he said. Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia are also among the eight.

There are now 18 high-risk countries, including Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US.

The health ministry said travellers from these high-risk countries must take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test two days before departure. Another test will be administered upon arrival and travellers will also be given a digital tracker. 

Those who are fully vaccinated must serve seven days of quarantine while the unvaccinated must isolate for 10 days. Travellers may apply to serve their quarantine at home instead of at designated stations.

The ministry is also "considering further action" on people who flouted their quarantine order this month, said Khairy.

These made up 1.4 per cent of positive cases who were ordered to quarantine at home since Dec 1, data from Malaysia's COVID-19 app MySejahtera showed.

Malaysia has cancelled mass gatherings at Christmas and over the New Year, with COVID-19 tests required for private gatherings. 

Authorities have also imposed requirements for COVID-19 vaccine boosters among high-risk groups, since recording its first case of the Omicron variant earlier this month.

On Tuesday, Khairy said authorities will now allow the interval between primary and booster doses for all vaccines to be reduced to three months, joining a growing number including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi of countries that have cut waiting times in a bid to ward off a new surge of infections.

As of Monday, 97.6 per cent of adults in Malaysia have been fully vaccinated.

Malaysia has reported about 2.7 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 31,300 fatalities. 

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Source: Agencies/jt/zl

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