It hasn’t even been two months since Malaysia almost completely dropped its mask mandate, and citizens are already being told to put their face coverings back on. While their usage is still voluntary, caretaker Minister of Health Khairy Jamaluddin has “highly recommended” that Malaysians mask up to fight a “small wave” of COVID-19 infections, Malay Mail reported.
During a press conference in Putrajaya today, Khairy said new infections shot up 16.5% to 16,917 cases between October 23 to 29, compared to 14,250 cases the previous week. These include four cases of the novel XBB variant, said to be resistant to vaccines and antibodies from previous infections. The number of patients in hospitals per 100,000 people has also jumped 14%.
But Khairy assuaged fears of severe COVID-19 hospitalisations, saying that the use of ICU beds has only grown by two per cent during this period. “We found that in terms of entry to government hospitals, the most is among those who have mild symptoms. Not serious symptoms,” he said.
Khairy said the ministry is unsure if the wave will worsen, adding that the country is relying on community efforts to prevent the situation from worsening.
The news follows months of the government loosening restrictions as Malaysia entered its endemic phase with regards to COVID-19. On May 1, it dropped the requirement for mask-wearing outdoors—although it continued to recommend wearing masks in crowded settings and for high-risk individuals—and MySejahtera check-ins. Indoor mask-wearing also became optional four months later on September 7, while flights dropped the requirement on September 29.
The spike in infections hasn’t dampened the government’s obvious desire to hold the 15th general elections (GE15) early. Khairy’s special advisor Dimishtra Sittampalam tweeted that even people who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be allowed to vote in person on November 19. However, candidates who have tested positive will not be allowed to campaign.