KUALA LUMPUR: As the country transitions to Covid-19 endemicity, the government should consider banning children under 12, who are still largely unvaccinated, from entering Ramadan bazaars.
Epidemiologist Dr Malina Osman said the government should intervene as only 0.9 per cent, or 33,621 of the 3.6 million children in the age group, have been fully vaccinated. Some 38.1 per cent, she added, were partially vaccinated.
“This is crucial as it is no secret that the number of children infected with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit (ICU) is high,” she said, drawing on anecdotal reports from doctors.
In March, the Health Ministry tweeted that the admission of children to paediatric ICU wards due to Covid-19 infection had increased by 94 per cent for categories 3 to 5, with a spike of 200 and 125 cases in categories 4 and 5, respectively.
She said the ban would also force parents who were still undecided on their children’s vaccination to consider sending them for jabs.
Paediatric cardiologist Professor Dr Abdul Rahim Wong, who treats patients in Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II in Kota Baru, Kelantan, advised parents against taking their children out altogether.
“In general, we would discourage families from taking their young and unvaccinated ones outside. The low vaccination rate of children here in Kota Baru means that we have a whole ward dedicated to them when they get infected with Covid-19.
“Our paediatric high-dependency unit has been converted to a Covid-19 paediatric ICU,” he told the NST.
He said while he had yet to see cases involving the Omicron variant in the hospital, the strain was bad news either way as the new infection pool would shift to children, who were mostly unvaccinated. The professor had also treated children with multi-system inflammatory syndrome associated with Covid-19 (MISC).
The Health Ministry had repeatedly urged parents to vaccinate their children to protect them from the potentially fatal Omicron variant and its complications, including the dreaded MISC.
Symptoms of MISC included fever, red eyes, rashes, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea, which would usually occur between two and six weeks after the children were infected.
Last week, the South China Morning Post reported that a study by researchers in the University of Hong Kong found that the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant had a seven-fold death rate among hospitalised children compared with influenza, and 15 per cent developed neurological complications after an infection.
The researchers studied a population of 1,147 children aged 11 and below, who were hospitalised between Feb 5 and 28. No youngsters had died from the original coronavirus strain.
The sub-variant also accounted for 86 per cent of all coronavirus cases globally, according to the World Health Organisation.
Public health specialist Dr Safiya Amaran urged bazaar organisers to ensure that their standard operating procedures (SOP) were practical in managing crowds.
“At this point. we have lived with the virus for two years. We can’t micromanage people and parents by telling them that kids under 12 cannot go to bazaars.
“But the organisers can do a headcount for the site and limit entry by positioning Rela personnel as guards.”
The Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin medical lecturer said the message that kids could die from Covid-19 had to be delivered to society continuously.
She said a large number of parents were still undecided about vaccinating their children.
However children could be seen in almost all crowded areas, such as shopping malls and parks, which raised the risk of Covid-19 infection and hospitalisation in the group.
Dr Safiya said the ministry could also raise awareness by clearly stating the number of children warded in the ICUs nationwide and publishing the number of young deaths.
In March, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali said 39 children aged 5 to 11 had died of Covid-19 since 2020.
National Security Council head Datuk Rodzi Md Said said there was no specific SOP for Ramadan bazaars, and their operations were subject to conditions set by the local authorities.
Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Dr Shahidan Kassim also said there was no specific SOP for the festive markets, except the mandatory check-in with MySejahtera and universal use of face masks in public areas.
Source: New Straits Times