KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 28 — The Muslim minor pilgrimage trips of umrah to Saudi Arabia will be postponed if the Omicron variant spread there worsens or the infection intensifies among Malaysian pilgrims, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said.
He said that returnees will also be quarantined at government-mandated stations — instead of currently being allowed to self-isolate at home and wearing digital trackers throughout their quarantine period.
“If, if the situation in Saudi Arabia worsens and if the spread of Omicron from those who return from umrah later is at a level that is rather worrying, then we have a further step-up measure, that is to be quarantined at quarantine stations and thirdly, we postpone the umrah first,” he told the press here.
However, Khairy stressed that this is only a last resort, and the current situation has yet to achieve that level.
“We will go step by step. We are being pre-emptive but not until the extent where we have to make hurried decisions.
“We are still monitoring the situation, we are stepping up the gatekeeping and also the measures,” he added.
Khairy said that the Ministry of Health will also remind relevant travel agencies to ensure that Malaysian travellers or pilgrims heading to Saudi Arabia to receive their Covid-19 vaccine booster shots before leaving.
Upon returning, he said travellers are also encouraged to carry out self-tests daily throughout their quarantine period as many of those who initially tested negative pre-departure and upon arrival, only tested positive on the fifth day.
“So this means they were infected, but cannot be detected during the pre-departure test and the test upon arrival at the international departure gate. That is something new that we are learning about Omicron now,” Khairy said.
Khairy said that the MoH also strongly advises Malaysians against non-essential travel to any of the 18 countries listed as high risk, as the situation there is “very, very risky and very, very dangerous”.
He also advised those who are planning to visit friends and family for New Year celebrations to carry out self-tests beforehand.
“Omicron is here. What we want to do is to slow down the spread of Omicron.
“We saw from our experience with the Melaka state election, Sarawak state election and perhaps also the Christmas celebration, which did not cause an increase in cases. This is for sure, because most people abided by the SOPs,” he added.
Khairy also weighed in on a statement by Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing, who took to his Facebook yesterday, alleging that a male British student, who was under quarantine in Bintulu after testing positive for the Omicron variant, had violated the order and cut short his quarantine even before his test result was out.
Tiong had said that although all the identified people who came into contact with the student from the UK had been placed in isolation, the authorities are still unable to accurately determine how many more people had come into contact with the individual.
Khairy, when asked to comment during the press conference, said that the student had breached his quarantine by going out on December 17 to the Covid-19 assessment centre (CAC), two days before his home surveillance order (HSO) was due to end.
He said that the MoH is also investigating the matter.
“So we have already carried out tests on eight close contacts to the case in Sarawak, in Bintulu and we found that all the eight cases are negative, so far.
“But I’ll ask the Bintulu District Health Office to continue to investigate other contacts that he may have had to do contact tracing and also to make sure that they do their tests,” Khairy said.