PETALING JAYA: Malaysian students still in countries where Covid-19 continues to spread at a rapid pace should be allowed to decide whether they want to return home.

Factors to consider in making such decisions include stopovers during their flight home and whether it will be safer for them to remain where they are, according to health experts.

Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye also pointed out that whether the students will be required to return to Malaysia would depend on prevailing National Security Council and Health Ministry policies on the issue.

Academic institutions in the US and the UK are among the top choices for Malaysians who wish to pursue tertiary education abroad. Both countries are among the worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The US has recorded the world’s highest number of infections and fatalities. Last Friday, the number of infections passed the seven million mark.

The UK is still grappling with a new surge in infections. More than 5,000 new cases have been recorded on some days, bringing the total number of infections to almost 500,000.

However, Lee pointed out it was still possible for Malaysian students in those two countries to protect themselves against infections if they put on a mask, practise social distancing and ensure proper hand sanitation.

“Covid-19 may be highly infectious, but it is also preventable even without a vaccine. All you need to do is observe the SOP (standard operating procedures),” he told theSun yesterday.

He pointed out that UK authorities have already made the wearing of masks in public mandatory.

“If our students observe this rule, it can reduce the risk of them getting infected,” he said.

However, the rules are more relaxed in the US. The wearing of face masks is only encouraged in selected states. Nonetheless, Lee said Malaysian students should still wear a mask when out and about.

“They should also avoid going to crowded places, especially bars and pubs. These are high risk places given that it is difficult to enforce social distancing at such venues.”

Epidemiologist Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said if Malaysian students come home now, it may be impossible for them to return to either of these two countries later to continue their studies.

“We must also note there may not be direct flights home. It could raise the risk of infection if they have to make several stopovers,” he said.

“That means the risk has to be weighed against the benefit.”

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