MALAYSIA — The Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) has recommended the use of face masks in all schools as a precautionary measure against the resurgence of COVID-19 cases and the spread of the new XBB.1.16 or Arcturus variant.

The Health Minister, Dr Zaliha Mustafa plans to meet with Education Minister to discuss the matter in order to contain the re-emergence of COVID-19 in schools.

“I will meet with Fadhlina this week to discuss the guidelines on why we need to control the spread of COVID-19 in schools, especially after the emergence of the new Arcturus variant.”

She said that guidelines on standard operating procedures (SOPs) involving students in schools will be issued before they resume schooling on next Tuesday (2 May) as a precautionary measure.

“This is important because we are concerned that if a student contracts the infection after traveling during the holiday, it may cause COVID-19 to spread again in schools,” she said when interviewed by Malaysian media Berita Harian.

While MOH has recommended COVID-19 control measures to be implemented in schools after the holiday, the final decision depends on the Ministry of Education (MOE) to implement it or not.

“Parents need not panic about the spread of this new variant, but we still encourage all parties, including students, to continue wearing face masks to contain its spread.”

“If they experience symptoms of infection, they not only need to wear face masks and maintain physical distancing, but also need to seek medical attention from a doctor,” she advised.

Individuals infected with Arcturus experience mild symptoms

In an earlier statement, Dr Zaliha noted that as of Monday (24 Apr), 12 cases of the Arcturus variant had been reported in Malaysia, with all cases exhibiting mild and stable symptoms.

Of these cases, four were detected in Selangor, two in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, and six in Sarawak.

The Arcturus (XBB.1.16) subvariant is part of the Omicron family, formed by the combination or recombination of the BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 variants.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified this subvariant as a Variant of Interest since 17 Apr.”

“This means that the risk assessment conducted by the WHO Technical Group of Experts on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution has identified the Arcturus subvariant as one that requires attention but is not classified as a Variant Under Monitoring.”

Dr Zaliha added that as of 2 April, the XBB.1.16 variant has been detected in at least 31 countries worldwide, including Malaysia.

Despite the presence of this variant, Dr Zaliha assured that the COVID-19 infection situation in Malaysia is still under control and does not strain the capacity of health services in clinics and hospitals.

Last Sunday, Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, reinstated the rule of wearing face masks in crowded public places for the public due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Several states in India have also mandated the use of face masks in public places to contain the spread of COVID-19, as some areas in the country have seen a resurgence of the outbreak in recent times.

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