PETALING JAYA: Two virologists have called for Covid-19 tests on travellers from China before they enter Malaysia.
Amir Yunus of Universiti Sains Malaysia said screening was key in keeping new lethal variants at bay, and Monash University’s Vinod Balasubramaniam said pre-flight testing of travellers was the “logical way forward”.
They were commenting on the recent increases in Covid-19 cases in China.
Speaking to FMT, Amir welcomed the health ministry’s initiative of testing wastewater from flights from China, but he said this was not enough.
“Wastewater testing can help identify what variant is being circulated. This gives us a heads-up of a potential outbreak of a certain variant.
“But these tests cannot pinpoint individuals carrying the virus. So, on top of wastewater sampling, all passengers should go through mandatory screening through a rapid antigen test,” he said.
Amir said banning the entry of travellers from China was not necessary at this point since there were vaccines in place.
Before deciding on a ban, he said, the authorities should keep track of the latest updates in China.
Vinod said travellers aged two and above and those considered high-risk should present a negative PCR test before heading out of China.
He noted that the BF.7 variant found in China had been proven to be more lethal than the original Omicron variant.
Wastewater testing should be a long-term strategy in keeping new variants at bay, he told FMT.
He cited California researchers who predicted the Covid-19 outbreak at a San Diego community 14 days ahead of wastewater testing.
“Shutting down international borders is not feasible any more in controlling the spread of Covid-19,” he said. “We must continue to live with the virus with modifications to our daily lifestyle.”
Last week, the health ministry said it would test sewage samples from aircraft from China in ramping up genomic surveillance of new variants.
Between last June and December, the ministry found that 96.5% of wastewater samples taken from international entry points contained the Omicron variant.