KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has called for Malaysians to be more vigilant when it comes to protecting children and infants from contracting Covid-19, stressing that they are considered a high-risk group.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that to date, 317 children under 12 have tested positive for Covid-19. Of this number, 112 or 35 per cent are under the age of four; 22 (7 per cent) are infants.

“So far we have not seen severe cases or deaths in our children aged 12 or less.

“More importantly, we do know that Covid-19 affects the lungs, like pneumonia, for example. And in children, they can actually have Kawasaki-like syndrome which actually means inflammation of the vessels. This is why we call it vasculitis.

“These are the symptoms that they can have, the symptoms will start with a fever, and then inflammation of the vessels.

“The message is we are trying to prevent children from getting infected,” he told his daily press conference in Putrajaya today.

It is a commonly held misconception that children are less vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19.

Dr Noor Hisham urged parents and guardians to adhere to the MOH’s standard operating procedure (SOPs), which included avoiding crowded places or confined spaces or engaging in close conversations, as this will increase the chances of infection.

He also reminded parents and guardians of the importance of handwashing or bathing after returning home before interacting with children and infants.

“The MOH calls on parents, guardians and older family members be responsible and protect them at all times from this invisible virus.

“The general public is also encouraged to cooperate in protecting children and infants, by maintaining a safe social distance of at least one metre,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said Selangor has the highest number of Covid-19 positive children under the age of 12, with 77 cases, followed by Negri Sembilan (48), Johor (46), Federal Territories (28) and Sabah (26).

On a related note, Dr Noor Hisham had said on May 8 that reopening daycare centres would be akin to holding a mass gathering where social distancing cannot be enforced.

He said that the MOH remains very apprehensive about the issue and is keen to study the matter further before reaching a decision.

Many parents have requested for childcare centres to reopen as they return to work at those economic sectors that have been allowed to operate during the conditional movement control order (CMCO) period which started on May 13.

To date, Putrajaya has decided that no schools or other educational institutions are allowed to operate barring online or digital lessons.