Penang Complains Red Tape Blocking Covid-19 Pool Testing

The Penang state government wants to increase coronavirus testing among factory workers.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 4 — The federal Health Ministry has yet to approve the Penang state government’s request to conduct Covid-19 pool testing to increase the screening of factory workers.

The pool testing method, which has been practised in countries like China, United States, Australia, and Singapore, combines samples from a few people into one batch, and a single test is done on the whole batch. 

If that batch gets a positive result, samples from the pool are subsequently retested individually. But if a pooled test result is negative, then all specimens in the batch are presumed negative with that single test. A pooling strategy saves time and lowers the overall cost of testing.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said that this pool testing initiative is cheaper, at about RM70, than individual Covid-19 tests, and factories can arrange samples for about five people that live in the same area to be done simultaneously.

“We finally had to write a letter and hope for a fast answer so that these initiatives can be carried out soon,” Chow told Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim during a virtual panel discussion on Covid-19. 

“We are still waiting and if the exemption letter is given, we can increase our testing among factory workers.” 

Anwar pointed out that the delay in approving such a suggestion, which can speed up and increase the number of individuals being tested, was not a proactive measure. 

“Give the approval, this is an example of how bureaucracy is, slow and having no sense of urgency,” Anwar stressed. “This pandemic requires firm action.” 

During the same session, Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari pointed out that Malaysia failed to learn from Singapore, who took the initiative to test all their factory workers during their second outbreak. 

“By right, we should have known that factory areas are the new epicentre after this if there’s an outbreak,” Amiruddin said. 

He said that the Selangor state government will be providing 50,000 free Covid-19 tests, mainly for factory workers, so that positive cases can be quickly isolated. Today, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that 59 per cent of Covid-19 cases were from workplaces.

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