PETALING JAYA: Close contacts of Covid-19 cases can be exempted from self-quarantine under proper guidelines and conditions, say health experts.

These include, among others, close contacts who have received their booster shots, are asymptomatic and have received a negative Covid-19 test result, they added.

Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said based on the current assessment of the Covid-19 situation in the country, it would be relatively safe for those identified as close contacts to not have to isolate if they are asymptomatic and are fully vaccinated, including having received their booster shots.

She said close contacts of Covid-19 patients should also have tested negative, and the test should be repeated should the individual develop any symptom.

“With the current high transmission of the Omicron wave, it is impossible to contain the infection effectively.

“However, data has shown a positive impact of Covid-19 vaccination in which severe cases are far below those reported during the Delta wave,” she said.

Prof Malina said the focus should now be on protecting those who have yet to receive their Covid-19 booster and children who are still waiting to be vaccinated.

She added that close contacts who would still need to be quarantined would be all high-risk groups, including the elderly, adults with comorbidities, pregnant ladies, children, as well as those who are not able to be vaccinated due to medical reasons or those who have not yet received their vaccines or booster shots.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia health economics, hospital and health management lecturer Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh agreed that asymptomatic close contacts need not be quarantined if they have completed their Covid-19 vaccination and booster dose.

She, however, said such a measure should only be taken after the country has reached an endemic stage, where most adults have received their booster shots and children have been fully vaccinated.“If they have yet to complete the vaccination, it means they will remain infectious longer and be at higher risk, as well as posing a risk to others,” she added.

She said close contacts who are exempted from quarantine should get tested three days after contact with the positive Covid-19 case, and again two days later as the incubation period may range from two to eight days.

Dr Sharifa Ezat also advised the public to avoid large gatherings for the time being and maintain the standard operating procedure due to the spike in Covid-19 cases.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said healthcare workers who are at the frontline of the pandemic constantly come in close contact with infected individuals but cannot afford to be quarantined often, or the healthcare system would collapse.

“But since we are in full personal protective equipment and maintain the SOP, we are quite safe,” he said.

He said he believes proper guidelines for close contacts would be ready once the new measure is implemented.

On Thursday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the ministry will announce a new SOP for close contacts next week as under current circumstances, there were too many incidents of close contacts, which was disrupting work processes and economic recovery.

He said a circular has already been issued to healthcare workers under the ministry on the matter, where such workers categorised as close contacts need not undergo isolation and will undergo tests on certain days.

Khairy added that the same measures may also be applied to the public.Under the current protocol, close contacts in Malaysia who have been fully vaccinated and have received booster shots will undergo quarantine for five days.

Those who have been fully vaccinated but have not received booster shots are quarantined for seven days while those who are unvaccinated and have not been fully vaccinated are isolated for 10 days.

Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark have also allowed asymptomatic close contacts who have tested negative to be exempted from quarantine, especially among essential workers such as those in healthcare or the police.

In Denmark, close contacts are required to take a rapid antigen test or PCR test three days after the suspected exposure and if symptoms emerge, they must immediately isolate and take a PCR test.

In the United Kingdom, close contacts who are fully vaccinated or below 18 years old, or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, would also be exempted from self-quarantine.