Omicron: Do we need stricter penalties or SOP?

The COVID-19 Omicron variant is currently a major concern around the world, many countries have reported a record number of cases. The United States of America reported over 1 million daily cases of COVID-19 on the 3rd January, France reported more than 332 thousand cases in the last 24 hours and other countries in Europe have been reporting daily cases in the 100 of thousands. What we currently know about the Omicron variant is that it is more infective and transmissible as compared to the Delta variant. However, it also shows milder symptoms, and there are less hospitalisation and death.

Malaysia is considered lucky, as our Rakyat are more compliant to the current SOP and our vaccination rate is high and people are more acceptable to receive the booster dose. We must understand that we need to have multiple layers of control when dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic, i.e., the Swiss Cheese Model. There is no open preventive measure that can prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, even for the Omicron variant. We need to employ multiple protective measures, i.e., vaccination, and adhering to the SOP. The SOP includes wearing a facemask when in public, observing hand hygiene and physical distancing, avoiding confined spaces, crowded areas and close conversation. We also need to ensure the place we frequent have good ventilation.

We do not need any stricter penalties, as the current penalties are sufficient. We just need people to be more vigilant and responsible. If they observe that the place they visit, or work does not follow the SOP there is a venue for them to make complain. For workers, it is their right to have a safe and healthy work environment, as this is enshrined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994. They have the right not to work and report to the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) if they found their work condition to be unsafe or are potential health hazards. The COVID-19 SOP is part of a safe and healthy work environment. Both the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and OSHA 1994 have already provided sufficient penalties for individuals and workplaces not adhering to the SOP.

The current measure taken by the Government of Malaysia is sufficient for us to tackle Omicron. In the next couple of weeks, we may see a rise in the number of cases, however, with the continued vigilance of the Rakyat, the situation can be controlled.

We should not close borders or implement MCO too swiftly without considering the economic impact on the Rakyat. Our Rakyat now is facing two major disasters, the flooding and COVID-19 and both have deep financial implications. If we close the border or implement MCO the impact on our lives and livelihood will be affected. Instead, of closing borders, we should look at other measures like quarantine and testing. MCO should only be implemented if our healthcare system shows signs of strain.

The article was written by Victor Hoe, the information was published in interviews in the SunDaily and Berita Harian.

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