KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 25 — Malaysia is expected to see a surge in new Covid-19 cases involving the highly transmissible Covid-19 Omicron variant since the virus has already begun to spread within the community as some international arrivals were found to have breached their quarantine order, the Health Ministry said today.

This is after a total of 62 confirmed cases involving the variant were reported as of today, with all imported except one suspected local transmission since December 15.

In a special press conference, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said there were concerns over those who were given Home Surveillance Orders (HSO) upon their return from overseas as the ministry has received credible reports that some have breached their quarantine order.

He added that some had even received visitors at home and inadvertently spread the virus to relatives and neighbours who were not undergoing quarantine, spreading the virus unknowingly when they went into public before testing positive.

“Some of them are not isolating themselves from their families when they should be doing so during the quarantine period by isolating themselves in separate rooms.

“We have received many reports that some of these people have mingled with their family in the same household and this presents an infection risk if they are found to be positive.

“We expect cases to increase, and as far as the severity of Omicron when compared to the Delta variant, we do not know yet whether this will contribute to the rise in hospital admissions as well,” he told a press conference here.

He also disclosed that the ministry has detected one suspected local transmission involving a 38-year-old fully vaccinated Chinese national in Sarawak with no travel history.

Khairy then highlighted the number of new confirmed Omicron cases between December 23 and 24, with the bulk of them comprising international arrivals from Saudi Arabia.

Of the 49 confirmed cases involving the Omicron variant, 30 were from Saudi Arabia followed by five from the United Kingdom, four from Qatar, three from the United States of America, two from Nigeria and one each from Italy, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates respectively.

The majority of the cases reported consisted of Category 1 and 2 patients.

“This shows two things. One, the emergence of Omicron is gradually increasing, especially among those from Saudi Arabia.

“Two, the possibility of Omicron transmitting within the community is high since the case in Sarawak is shown to have no travel history whatsoever which means the variant is already inside our community,” he added.

Noting that Omicron is a highly transmissible coronavirus variant, Khairy said some international travellers test negative on pre-departure, but test positive for Covid-19 within several hours upon arrival in Malaysia.

“So I hope people will follow the HSO. This is serious. We gave the liberty of home quarantine because when we decided to manage and live with Covid-19, we wanted to make things simple.

“But please follow it, self-isolate,” Khairy implored.

With the infection risks of the Omicron variant persisting worldwide including confirmation of positive cases in Malaysia, Khairy said the ministry would be intensifying its booster dose program, with an announcement on shorter dosage intervals expected to be made soon.

Apart from enhancing the ongoing booster program, Khairy said the government has also taken action by strengthening border controls at all international gateway by conducting stringent screenings on all arrivals.

“For those wishing to travel overseas, we strongly advise you to get your booster dose,” he said.

The move is in line with several countries worldwide which shortened the recommended period between a second coronavirus shot and a booster to three months from six, reflecting the increasing presence of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Khairy also said the ministry would be increasing testing capacity in eight laboratories in both peninsula and Sarawak to conduct variant of concerns screenings for those arriving from overseas.

On November 26, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern – namely Omicron – which first emerged in South Africa.

According to the WHO, preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron as compared to other variants of concern including Delta but information is limited.