KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 — A total of 868,394 individuals in Malaysia have been sampled for Covid-19, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said today, equating Malaysia’s testing rate to South Korea.
After Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim questioned yesterday in Parliament if Malaysia’s low daily Covid-19 cases were “real” given a lower testing rate than other countries, MOH revealed today that Malaysia’s testing rate based on the sampling of 868,394 individuals was 27.14 people per 1,000 population, similar to South Korea’s 26.29 tests per 1,000 population.
According to MOH, Vietnam’s Covid-19 testing rate is 2.7 tests per 1,000 people, while Japan stands at 4.1. Countries like Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand have run 79.83 tests, 114.15 tests, and 87.54 tests per 1,000 population respectively.
“The number of tests in our country is equivalent to South Korea,” Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.
“Although Malaysia’s laboratory capacity for sampling has increased to 37,000 samples a day, but the positivity rate is only 1.05 per cent. This means that almost 99 per cent of results of Covid-19 tests that have been done are negative.”
He also said Malaysia has conducted 1,577,417 tests so far, comprising both the gold-standard RT-PCR test and the antigen rapid test kit (RTK), a figure that is higher than the 868,394 people sampled because some individuals needed repeat tests.
Dr Noor Hisham added that the antigen RTK — which has the advantage of detecting a large number of Covid-19 infections in a short period of time — is used for people returning to Malaysia from abroad, like at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), pre-surgery screening for emergency and semi-emergency cases, deceased people suspected of having Covid-19, acute respiratory infection case screening at MOH public health clinics, and expanded screening for target groups, including areas under movement restrictions.
Antigen RTK’s Sensitivity Levels Rose To 90%
MOH, he said, has started using antigen RTK since May 6, adding that the current test kit used has passed the Institute of Medical Research’s (IMR) technical evaluation.
“In fact, a technical re-evaluation on the latest procurement supply indicated an increase in sensitivity levels from 84.4 per cent to 90 per cent, whereas the specificity level remains at 100 per cent.”
Sensitivity measures how often a test correctly generates a positive result for people who have the condition that’s being tested for. A test that’s highly sensitive will flag almost everyone who has the disease and not generate many false-negative results.
Specificity measures a test’s ability to correctly generate a negative result for people who don’t have the condition that’s being tested for. A high-specificity test will correctly rule out almost everyone who doesn’t have the disease and won’t generate many false-positive results.
Dr Noor Hisham revealed that as of July 15, a total of 88,048 antigen RTK have been run, out of which 0.2 per cent, or 197 cases, showed positive results. From the 88,048 antigen rapid tests, 25,038 are screenings at all international entry points at KLIA, klia2, Johor, Kedah, and Penang, with an average of 357 people screened per day. Most of the screenings are done at KLIA and klia2.
He also said 829,238 RT-PCR tests have been conducted to date.
Dr Noor Hisham acknowledged reports of “false negative” results from the antigen RTK, saying that this was because the test’s sensitivity was 90 per cent. This means that for every 100 people screened, 10 may wrongly test negative even though they actually have the coronavirus.
As of last Monday, authorities have reported seven false negative results from the antigen RTK used at airports. The latest case — who had returned from Russia — tested negative for Covid-19 at the airport and subsequently infected his or her father picking him or her up upon arrival. The person tested positive for the coronavirus on a repeat test after experiencing fever and respiratory symptoms.
Both Anwar and Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii expressed concern at the Dewan Rakyat yesterday about the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee’s (SDMC) reports of inaccurate results from the antigen RTK, where people initially tested negative at KLIA, but later tested positive for the coronavirus with the RT-PCR test in Sarawak.
“Based on investigations, there’s a big possibility that individuals with false negative results were in the incubation period, where the viral load was too low to be detected by the antigen RTK.
“Therefore, each screened individual must still undergo 14 days’ quarantine, like what is set in the Covid-19 management policy. If found to be symptomatic, it must be reported to the nearest district health office for further action.”
MOH Increasing Covid-19 Surveillance, Clinic Screening
Dr Noor Hisham stated that Malaysia was able to control the Covid-19 cases as the wards and intensive care units (ICU) did not see a surge in Covid-19 patients.
That led the ministry to revisit plans to further deepen their search for the coronavirus in the community.
“When we see a reduced number, that means we are able to control the infection, although we have opened up all the sectors — economic sectors, social sectors and education sectors. But we do not see a surge in the cases. That’s the balance that we want to achieve now,” Dr Noor Hisham told a press conference.
“Now if you have achieved the balance you will increase the surveillance, you will increase the screening for the targeted group. We will do random sampling in certain communities to detect the virus, as well as to look into the immunity of response of the community.”
The MOH announced three new Covid-19 cases today, consisting of one imported case and two local transmissions.
Although the daily reported cases in Malaysia has been declining, MOH emphasised the need of conducting constant monitoring activities by intensifying surveillance processes.
“So far, all the studies that we have done show that the percentage of the infected cases in the community is very low. That is the reason now we have to relook. Take a few steps back, restrategise, plan in terms of targeting the high-risk community. That’s one. Second is to protect the elderly for example-old folks home — we continue to do the screening,” the DG mentioned in a press meet.
“If the virus is not well controlled in the population, we will see more patients in our ward and ICU.”
Currently, only 77 Covid-19 patients are still receiving treatment in hospital, with three patients in the ICU.
Until today, MOH has reported a total of 129 cases of Covid-19 detected through clinical surveillance activities, such as sampling of influenza-like illness (ILI), SARI, and pre-surgery sampling.
“All our hospitals will test for SARI cases. That means if you have pneumonia or acute respiratory infection, we will test for Covid infection.
“And also symptoms like running nose and etc, we will also test in our 26 sentinel clinics. Now, we will increase the sentinel clinics to test more people, those who are symptomatic,” said the DG.
Today, 12 Covid-19 patients were discharged from hospital, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 8,538.
No deaths from Covid-19 were reported today. The death toll in the country remains at 122. Malaysia has reported 8,737 Covid-19 cases, thus far.