A medical worker collects swab sample from a boy during coronavirus testing at a health center in Shah Alam, Malaysia, on Thursday. VINCENT THIAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Soaring COVID-19 cases are straining Malaysia’s public health system, making it imperative for the country’s authorities to speed up mass vaccinations, analysts said.

The Southeast Asian country must step up efforts to secure more vaccines even as the world faces a shortage of jabs amid a spike in cases in some regions around the world, they said.

Malaysia is the third worst-hit country in Southeast Asia. The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 7,857 new infections, a new record that pushed the country’s total confirmed cases to 541,224. It was the third straight day in which new cases soared above 7,000. Total deaths have spiked to 2,491 as of Friday afternoon.

Malaysia’s daily cases have been on the rise since April and accelerated after the Muslim Eid festival despite a one-month lockdown that is to last until June 7. The surge, coupled with a rise in deaths, have strained the healthcare system.

“The recent surge of COVID-19 cases is alarming for the whole nation,” said Leow Chiuan Yee, senior lecturer at the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Universiti Sains Malaysia, or USM.

With some of the country’s intensive care units, or ICUs, nearly full, Leow said it is getting more difficult for the healthcare system to treat the rapidly growing number of coronavirus patients.

Leow is hoping new shipments from China and the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, will help Malaysia’s vaccination drive which had been constrained by tight global supplies.

CoronaVac jabs

A total of 500,000 doses of CoronaVac jabs from China’s Sinovac Biotech and 559,200 AstraZeneca doses sourced from COVAX arrived in Kuala Lumpur on May 21.

Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia’s director-general of health, said the nation’s health system is under “huge stress” and ICUs nationwide have reached 91 percent capacity. Some hospitals are converting other areas into temporary ICUs, he said, but noted such arrangements could hurt non-COVID-19 patients who need critical treatment.

Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz said Malaysia will increase COVID-19 healthcare spending by another $48 million.

Malaysia planned to vaccinate 80 percent of its 32 million population by February 2022 to bring about herd immunity. But the rollout has been slow, with only 1.7 million people having received at least one dose as of Friday.

Agencies via Xinhua contributed to this story.