By Farhan Kamarulzaman,
The recent decision of the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) to shorten the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days will undoubtedly benefit the nation in terms of balancing economic recovery and public health, but we must remain vigilant with its little risks.
This is because this decision, which is based on new research and modelling data, would significantly facilitate people’s activities amid the fight against Covid-19. Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium have recently taken a similar decision for the good of their country.
For instance, it will ease people’s activities on returning to work or school sooner and assist the country’s economic activities such as the tourism industry for easier travel arrangements especially for the international travel bubble, which is likely to kick in soon.
US experts also believed this would make it easier for people to take the crucial action of reducing the economic burdens associated with more extended periods, mostly if they are unable to work during that time.
As the education sector was also impacted during the crisis, Bartow County and Cartersville City schools in the US also had utilised the ten-day quarantine period to prevent students from missing out on lessons for too long due to the previous quarantine period.
And it is expected the reduction of the quarantine period in our country would enable the government to formulate a more useful future strategy for the country, which will further facilitate people’s lives and also economic measures in light of this new norm.
Indeed, the government’s decision likely represents good progress in reviewing the current Covid-19 crisis. We also hope the decision can help the country to tackle this pandemic as much as possible, primarily to reduce the burden on health care workers and also to stabilise the demand for health care workers.
In announcing the shortening the quarantine period, the director-general of the MOH, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, said the latest scientific evidence found the highest risk of infection is on the first week of exposure.
He also said the monitoring and observation period for travellers from abroad, as well as management of close contact tracing, will also be shortened to 10 days.
The decision undeniably highlights our rapid response to reliable global studies and research on the Covid-19 situation, which seems to have borne fruit in effectively assisting the world in making a fair decision for the nation’s good.
The World Health Organisation and others have estimated the incubation period for Covid-19 ranges from two to 14 days, while some studies suggest the average time for symptoms to appear after exposure is about five days.
An article in The Lancet journal last month said Covid-19 patients were likely to be most infectious within the first week of the illness. The researchers, however, also found viral shedding – the release of new viral particles following the completion of viral reproduction after host-cell infection – may still continue for up to 83 days.
Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ten-day quarantine is valid for people who do not have symptoms – or seven days if they do not have symptoms and get a negative test on time.
However, Dr Henry Walke, the incident manager for the Covid-19 response from the CDC, also noted individuals should always watch for symptoms for a full 14 days after exposure, even after leaving quarantined earlier.
This is because the decision carries a slight risk of transmitting the virus after exiting quarantine. It is estimated someone who leaves the quarantine on Day 10 with a negative test has around one per cent chance of spreading the virus, while someone who leaves the quarantine on Day 7 has a five per cent risk.
This requires us to be more vigilant in its implementation process because our negligence on its low risk would expose the country to the greater risk of Covid-19 infection and disrupt the nation’s goal to flatten the Covid-19 curve.
Not just that, the CDC also urged people who left quarantine to continue taking other precautions to entirely prevent the chance of spreading the virus, such as symptoms monitoring, social distancing and wearing masks.
Our local experts also added individuals released earlier must still comply with the SOPs and those with a history of close contact or symptoms should be careful and preferably quarantined for 14 days with a confirmatory test.
Indeed, this is true as the 14-day quarantine is still recommended as the best way to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19. The 10-day quarantine period, as mentioned earlier, is just an option for people who do not have any symptoms (asymptomatic).
Although the quarantine period is shortened, we should remain focus on our primary goal, which is to curb the Covid-19 spread and immediately free from Covid-19 by adhering to the SOPs as advised by the MOH.
Furthermore, people should fully cooperate with the MOH through proper self-monitoring since we are still far from victory due to the third wave of Covid-19 infection, especially Covid-19 symptoms for those who are released after a 10-day quarantine period.
As the decision also involves antigen testing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, the government must be careful to include antigen testing in this issue because its effectiveness is still lower than that of PCR testing.
After all, local studies on Covid-19 should also be considered by the government along with accurate analysis of the country’s Covid-19 data so that the future decision will be more relevant to the current situation in the war against Covid-19.
Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.