KUALA LUMPUR, April 19 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has defended its targeted testing approach with a 5 per cent positivity rate among 109,308 people tested for Covid-19 as of today.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the 5 per cent positivity rate (the number of people with positive results out of those tested) was better than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard of 10 per cent. Other developed countries, he said, had a positivity rate of 6 of 7 per cent.
A positivity rate higher than 10 per cent, according to WHO, means that countries are not testing sufficiently to track undetected coronavirus cases in the community.
“We feel 5 per cent is sufficient for our screening,” Dr Noor Hisham told a press conference today.
He said Malaysia’s testing capacity remained at 11,500 tests daily, with over 10,000 tests run yesterday.
The positivity rate in various high-risk groups targeted by MOH for testing is 31 per cent for close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases, 10 per cent for those related to the tabligh gathering at Sri Petaling mosque last month, and 8 per cent for tahfiz students.
A total of 139 Covid-19 cases have been detected so far in MOH’s surveillance of severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) and influenza-like illnesses (ILI) in the community, said the Health DG.
“What’s more important we want to know whether the last two weeks, for example, any increase in terms of SARI or ILI, whether the cases are decreasing as well,” he said.
“If we’re doing well, surveillance tells us cases will be decreasing in the community. It’s very important for us to continue doing surveillance in community.”
Some experts have repeatedly called for mass testing in Malaysia like what South Korea has done, but Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Dr Nirmala Bhoo Pathy has come out in support of MOH’s approach of testing high-risk groups and locations, saying that widespread testing is a waste of resources in a middle-income country like Malaysia.
Japan, however, is now facing a spiralling Covid-19 epidemic, reporting over 10,000 cases in just a month after previously confirming 243 cases on March 1. Japan has reportedly tested about 90,000 people by focusing on containing coronavirus clusters, similar to Malaysia’s approach, as Japan believed widespread testing was a waste of resources.
MOH reported today 84 new Covid-19 cases, the third day of daily increases in double digits since April 15. The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Malaysia is 5,389, while active infectious cases number at 2,103.
Forty-six patients are currently in intensive care, including 26 on ventilator support. One new death was reported today, leading to a total of 89 fatalities from Covid-19.
MOH also detected a new Covid-19 cluster involving 43 Malaysians who flew home from Temboro, a red zone in Magetan, Indonesia. All of them have been quarantined.
Malaysia is set to run clinical trials on remdesivir, an antiviral drug that was originally developed by Gilead Sciences to fight Ebola and other related viruses, as part of WHO’s global Solidarity Trial to test medicines for Covid-19. The global clinical trial will also look at various combination treatments of lopinavir/ritonavir (a combination antiretroviral medicine), interferon-beta (a molecule involved in regulating inflammation in the body), and antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
“Nine MOH hospitals participating in the WHO Solidarity Trial are prepared to start taking in participants from Covid-19 patients who fulfill the criteria set,” Dr Noor Hisham said, adding that Malaysia would look at recruiting coronavirus patients who display symptoms and those with severe disease.