Don’t Waste Money, Resources On More Covid-19 Testing: Deputy Minister

Malaysia runs about 5,000 to 6,000 coronavirus tests a day; maximum capacity is 38,600 tests, says Deputy Health Minister Aaron Ago Dagang.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 14 — Malaysia does not need to expand Covid-19 testing because fewer than one of 100 people tested yield positive results in a screening of 1.6 million individuals, a deputy minister said.

Deputy Health Minister II Aaron Ago Dagang told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that with a positivity rate of less than 1 per cent after screening 1.6 million individuals, and with few community transmissions, there is no need to increase the daily testing rate.

“On a daily basis now, we only do 5,000 to 6,000 tests,” Aaron replied former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, when questioned on the exact number of tests done by the Ministry of Health (MOH) every day.

“We have screened more than 1.6 million individuals and the positivity rate is very low, less than one per cent. So there is no need for us to waste money and resources to conduct more tests because in our community right now, the Covid-19 cases are very low. From our daily data, it shows that most of the cases are imported cases,” the Kanowit MP added.

Malaysia, however, has been reporting unlinked community Covid-19 cases in recent weeks whose source of infection is unknown, including the index case of the Tawar cluster in Baling, Kedah, reported yesterday.

Paediatrician Dr Amar-Singh HSS also highlighted the number of unlinked community cases from July 25 to August 13, numbering at about below five each day.

The number of unlinked Covid-19 cases in the community from July 25 to August 13, 2020. Graphic by Dr Amar-Singh HSS.

“Why is MOH less willing to share on their website the Covid-19 tests that are being done daily?” Dzulkefly had asked Aaron.

Dzulkefly also pointed out that New Zealand went back to lockdown after being free for 102 days from the coronavirus; the country previously recorded just 22 deaths and 1,500 positive cases.

“In terms of testing, I understand that we seem to be slacking of late.”

The deputy health minister responded by saying that Malaysia follows a targeted approach in terms of screening and cited the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline stating that if the positivity rate increases to five per cent and above, only then will more testing be done.

Aaron also said that with 58 laboratories throughout the country that can conduct Covid-19 tests, the laboratory network is able to provide a maximum capacity of up to 38,600 tests per day. The 58 labs comprise 24 MOH labs, 18 private labs, 13 university hospital labs, two army labs, and one Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) lab.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told a press conference Monday that Malaysia’s testing rate of 31.29 tests per 1,000 population was equivalent to South Korea’s rate of 31.14 tests per 1,000 people. He also said the low positivity rate of 0.05 per cent from pre-surgery screening indicated low transmission of the virus in the community.

Aaron said that Malaysia has a total 6,889 beds for Covid-19 patients across 40 Covid-19 hospitals (including two university hospitals) and 26 quarantine and treatment centres for low-risk Covid-19 patients, comprising 5,500 maximum beds in the hospitals and 1,389 bed capacity in the quarantine centres. The bed usage so far is less than 15 per cent and this rate has been found to be declining.

In the 40 hospitals that have been identified as the Covid-19 hospitals, the usage of 430 beds in the intensive care unit (ICU) does not exceed five per cent, whereas the usage of 1,364 ventilators in Covid-19 hospitals is around 40 per cent, including non-coronavirus patients.

Aaron also asserted that MOH has sufficient human resource capacity, including an additional 2,000 contract health workers under the Economic Stimulus Package, and assistance from private doctors and experts who were hired through contract for service.

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