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11/02/2021
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Ground SOPs in science

The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia is troubled by the introduction of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Exemption) Order 2021, which states that cabinet ministers returning from official overseas visits must only quarantine for three days instead of the mandatory ten days for inbound travelers.

The health minister clarified that only cabinet ministers who travel in a 'bubble itinerary' will undergo three-day quarantine.

Moreover, this move is intended to open up the economy as the policy will eventually be applicable to foreign dignitaries and business travelers.

We, the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, wholeheartedly oppose the Exemption Order as well as any plans to extend the three-day quarantine rule to other travelers.

We wish to remind the government that all standard operating procedures (SOP) must be grounded in science. The quarantine period for inbound travelers is set at ten days based on research which shows that the risk of transmission is extremely low (~1%) after ten days with monitoring and testing in place.

The incubation period for COVID-19 is on average five to six days but can be as long as 14 days. Therefore, three days is insufficient to detect symptoms.

There must be an evidence-based, public health explanation for the government's decision to reduce quarantine days.

The effectiveness of so-called 'travel bubbles' are also still in question as new variants of COVID-19 with increased transmission capability spread rapidly around the world.

There is insufficient data on the mutations to develop robust protocols for safe travel.

We understand there is urgency to restart the economy for the benefit of Malaysians and businesses that are struggling, but this can only be done by bringing the pandemic under control first.

The government must not open up our borders to 'bubble' delegations and risk bringing in new variants that could overwhelm our health system.

We call on the government to revoke the Exemption Order and—until there is scientific evidence that suggests differently—enforce a ten-day quarantine for all.

(The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, embracing 11 Colleges and 15 Chapters, is a registered body representing medical specialists in Malaysia.)

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