KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has again defended its targeted testing strategy in only testing high-risk groups and locations for Covid-19.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said MOH’s targeted approach — from Day One of the Covid-19 epidemic that broke out in Malaysia last January — in containing clusters and testing confirmed Covid-19 patients’ close contacts who display symptoms has shown results today, after over a month of the Movement Control Order (MCO).
“Initially, we were questioned whether to screen everyone. I was also informed in [South] Korea, they do not screen everyone — only targeted, high-risk groups,” Dr Noor Hisham told a press conference today. “We’ll continue to do that.”
He pointed out that close contacts of people with Covid-19 had a 30 per cent chance of contracting the virus.
“So now, if we were to do mass screening for a 32-million population, the whole country, whether it is feasible or not, whether it’s necessary or not — we still maintain in MOH a targeted approach to the location and the high-risk groups.”
MOH will advise an Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) on Covid-19 clusters, where all residents in those areas under total lockdown will be tested.
“It’s a very targeted approach so we can have high impact and good outcome in a short period of time, so [that] we can focus our resources on targeted groups.”
The EMCO has been imposed on six areas so far, with the latest in the area surrounding the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market in Selayang with predominantly Rohingya refugees.
International media reports have consistently praised the success of South Korea’s mass testing approach. Bloomberg reported last Saturday that South Korea has managed to curb the Covid-19 outbreak with its “massive testing and contact-tracing campaign, without having to close businesses or impose travel restrictions.
Business Insider reported Monday that South Korea has done 10,862 tests per million people as of April 20, compared to the United Kingdom’s 7,624 tests per million people, and Japan’s 930 tests per million people. The United States has also caught up, having done 11,821 tests per million people as of April 20.
Dr Noor Hisham said Malaysia has tested 109,308 people as of April 19, which translates to about 3,416 tests per million people for a 32-million population.
The Health DG also said Covid-19 testing capacity has increased slightly to 11,546 daily tests at 43 laboratories, with 9,899 tests conducted yesterday. MOH will add five more laboratories, while a few are expected to come from the private sector and universities.
MOH is also currently in the process of procuring antigen rapid test kits from South Korea, with the procurement handled on a government-to-government basis.
These rapid antigen tests have a quick turnaround time of 30 to 45 minutes, unlike the standard RT-PCR tests in laboratories that take 24 to 48 hours to produce results. MOH hopes to place these rapid tests, together with biosafety cabinets, in clinics and even airports to test transit passengers, said Dr Noor Hisham.
He also said the first wave of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia, involving mostly Chinese citizens, showed the same viral strain as in Wuhan, China — strain B.
Dr Noor Hisham added that strain A was said to be found in the United States, strain B in China, and strain C in Singapore and Europe. Malaysia was also said to have strain C.
But he pointed out that the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) was now studying the coronavirus to identify the strain in Malaysia, noting that the second wave of cases involved imported cases from various countries like Japan and Italy.
“I believe these imported cases from everywhere, there’s a big possibility, our virus has A, B and C. If we have A, B and C, what is the percentage? Only with research, we can answer the question.”
IMR has been asked to reduce testing so that it can focus on studying the virus. Dr Noor Hisham said IMR ran 658 tests yesterday; its capacity is about 850.