Why Malaysia Reported Below 3,000 Covid-19 Cases

The number of people tested for Covid-19 dropped from over 67,000 people tested on Feb 3 to some 49,000 on Feb 9, while the positive rate on Feb 9 was 5.6%.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 2,764 Covid-19 cases yesterday, following a trend of declining confirmed infections since February 6 that saw 3,847 new cases.

The drop in yesterday’s reported cases — the lowest 24-hour increase since nearly a month ago on January 11 — may not be a true reflection of reduced transmission of the virus in the country, as testing has declined over the past week, while the positive rate has remained consistently above 5 per cent.

A high Covid-19 positive rate, along with a lower number of people getting tested, shows the presence of many undetected Covid-19 cases in the community.

According to MOH data, the number of people tested for the coronavirus declined by 27 per cent from 67,264 people tested on February 3 to 49,163 people tested yesterday on February 9.

More than 60,000 people were tested daily for the coronavirus from February 3 to February 5. However, the number of people who underwent Covid-19 tests reduced from 59,199 people on February 6, sharply declining to 32,536 people tested on February 8.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah verbally told a press conference yesterday that only 30 per cent RT-PCR capacity was utilised (23,087 samples tested) on February 8, from a total of 68 labs with the RT-PCR capacity to process 76,805 samples.

According to MOH data provided to CodeBlue, the number of daily RT-PCR testing declined from 35,989 tests conducted on February 3 to 31,773 tests on February 9.

It is unclear whether the day’s reported coronavirus cases come from samples processed the day or a few days before, as MOH does not reveal the turnaround time for test results. RT-PCR tests take 24 to 48 hours for results, likely longer during the past few weeks with a high number of new infections. Officials have also acknowledged a recent backlog of cases dating back to last year, without details on the exact number or how many have been cleared so far.

Covid-19 cases in Malaysia are officially reported based on RT-PCR diagnosis, not with rapid antigen tests. Rapid testing is generally used only for faster detection and isolation.

MOH previously said it would no longer test close contacts without symptoms for Covid-19, besides restricting overall testing on close contacts. Conducting fewer tests means that fewer people are officially diagnosed with Covid-19. Not testing all close contacts could also artificially reduce the positive rate, as close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases are more likely than the general public to contract the virus.

Another indicator to look at is the positive rate, or the share of tests that are positive. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a benchmark 5 per cent positive rate; a higher rate means that there are more undetected Covid-19 cases in the community.

On February 8, the country recorded a high Covid-19 positive rate, 9.5 per cent, before dropping to 5.6 per cent yesterday. This positive rate is based on positive test results out of the number of people tested. According to seven-day moving averages (meaning the average number over a week), Malaysia’s positive rate declined from 9 per cent on February 3 to 6.8 per cent yesterday.

From January 29 to February 1, the country’s Covid-19 positive rate was more than 10 per cent. Daily reported cases in that period topped 5,000 cases each day from January 29 to January 31, before falling to 4,214 cases on February 1.

The 2,764 new Covid-19 cases yesterday included six imported cases, reported among three Malaysians and three foreign nationals. That brings the total active cases in the country to 50,841, with 289 patients in the intensive care unit, including 127 under ventilator support.

Selangor reported the highest number of Covid-19 cases (862 cases), followed by Johor (521 cases) and Kuala Lumpur (422 cases).

Malaysia also registered 13 new Covid-19 deaths yesterday — the youngest deceased aged 49 years and the oldest aged 80. Of them six were from Selangor, two each in Sabah, Sarawak, and Johor, as well as one in Kuala Lumpur.

Johor, Selangor, Sabah, Negeri Sembilan and Kuala Lumpur have recorded 12 new Covid-19 clusters including 11 workplace clusters.

Other states like Melaka (203 cases), Sabah (180 cases), Penang (119 cases), Sarawak (111 cases), Negeri Sembilan (99 cases), Kelantan (62 cases), Kedah (59 cases), Perak (40 cases), Terengganu (34 cases), Pahang (32 cases), Labuan (10 cases), and Putrajaya (10 cases) have recorded new Covid-19 cases yesterday.

Update on February 11: The story was updated with MOH data on RT-PCR testing in paragraph 7.

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