Covid-19 Testing Fell With Reported Cases, Positive Rate High

On Feb 15, when 2,176 Covid-19 cases were reported, the lowest since Jan 11, the positive rate was about 9%.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 — The number of people tested for Covid-19 declined from February 10 to February 15, as reported cases dropped from 3,499 on February 13 to 2,176 yesterday.

According to Ministry of Health (MOH) data obtained from the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre’s (CPRC) Telegram account, the number of people tested nationwide dropped from 61,483 people tested on February 10 to 24,276 people tested on February 15, a whopping 60.5 per cent decline. 

MOH does not release data on the number of RT-PCR and antigen rapid test kit (RTK) tests conducted nationwide or by state. RT-PCR tests are used to diagnose and to officially report Covid-19 cases; people who test positive on antigen RTK can be isolated quickly, but must do RT-PCR testing subsequently to confirm Covid-19 diagnosis.

The positive rate based on the number of individuals tested, meanwhile, exceeded the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) benchmark of below 5 per cent over the past week, even reaching a high of nearly 12 per cent on February 13. 

On February 15, when 2,176 Covid-19 cases were reported, the lowest since January 11, the positive rate was about 9 per cent.

WHO said last May that countries should achieve a positive rate of below 5 per cent for at least two weeks before governments consider reopening. The positive rate is the share of tests that are positive. A high positive rate indicates there are more people with Covid-19 in the community who haven’t been tested yet.

An article in the Harvard Global Health Institute published last May recommended a positive rate of below 3 per cent. According to Our World In Data, since February 1 this year, successful countries like South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Australia have maintained a positive rate below 1.2 per cent. 

Malaysia’s high positive rate of 11.9 per cent on February 13 coincided with the highest number of Covid-19 cases reported that day in the past week at 3,499 cases. 

Reported coronavirus infections rose slightly from 3,318 cases on February 12 to 3,499 cases on February 13, despite the steep drop in the number of individuals tested from 54,435 to 29,301 in that period.

“When you test less, you tend to be more specific and target the highest risk groups — hence get higher positivity. That is possible,” consultant paediatrician Dr Amar-Singh HSS explained to CodeBlue.

Since mid-January, MOH no longer tested close contacts without symptoms for Covid-19, besides restricting overall testing on close contacts.

The government appears to be relying on the Covid-19 infectivity rate, or Rt value, in deciding whether to lift lockdown measures, rather than the positive rate. Health Minister Dr Adham Baba told CodeBlue last week that the Movement Control Order (MCO) would likely be replaced with the more relaxed Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) after February 18 in states with a low Rt. The infectivity rate is based on reported cases.

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