Inadequate Testing Caused Spike Of Severe Covid-19 Cases: Experts

Medical experts told the government that early testing enables people with Covid-19 to be diagnosed, isolated, and treated early to prevent seriously ill cases and deaths.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 10 — Inadequate testing led to a surge of severe coronavirus cases nationwide, health experts said, amid full or near-capacity Covid-19 intensive care units (ICU) across the Klang Valley, Kelantan, Sarawak, Johor, and Penang.

They said that now that the third Movement Control Order (MCO) has been implemented in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the government should mass test all residents to enable early detection and treatment of cases, rather than late detection that leads to overcapacity of hospitals’ ICU and a spike in Covid-19 deaths.

Yesterday, Malaysia reported the highest daily Covid-19 death toll at 26 fatalities in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Kelantan, Penang, Pahang, Johor, and Sarawak, including four brought-in-dead cases, two of whom were only in their 50s.

In the 18th epidemiological week of the year (May 2-8), the nation reported 25,350 Covid-19 cases (daily average 3,621 cases), a 19 per cent increase from 21,342 infections (daily average 3,049 cases) recorded in the previous week of April 25 to May 1.

Public health expert and epidemiologist Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman told CodeBlue that multiple Covid-19 outbreaks are happening simultaneously across several states because the infection is everywhere.

The former Health deputy director-general pointed out that during the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) period, the only intervention done was the implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“We only expect the public to follow SOP and cases to go down. We let the sporadic cases continue to increase — poor case investigation and contact tracing,” Dr Lokman said.

Dr Lokman pointed out that testing should be increased during this two-week MCO 3.0 period in Kuala Lumpur and six districts in Selangor until May 18 and 17 respectively.

“Increased testing will increase the number of cases but this is okay. This is what we want. By right, we should double or triple the number of cases during this MCO, detect all those people who carry the virus and quarantine them.”

Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, former Health deputy director-general (public health)

“Once we have done that, and infected people can strictly observe quarantine, we can expect the cases to drop after MCO,” the public health expert added.

Dr Lokman however said that if the government maintains its public health strategy of lockdowns (without increasing Covid-19 screening), MCO 4.0 is inevitable.

“I am confident that with MCO 3.0, we will reduce the cases, but if the strategy is still the same, we will have to do MCO 4.0 after this and so on until maybe when 80 per cent of the population already have the level of immunity due to natural infection or vaccination.

“How long will it take to reach that level? Can our economy survive?” Dr Lokman questioned.

As of May 8, only 2.07 per cent of Malaysia’s 32.7 million population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, or fewer than 680,000 people.

Pahang May Report Next Covid-19 Outbreak

An anonymous medical practitioner pointed out that not only are nationwide Covid-19 cases going up, but also coronavirus-related deaths.

“The problem is we must always remember that when you pick up the case, the first thing you must remember is — ‘I picked up this case, how many more cases have I not picked up?’,” the doctor told CodeBlue, requesting anonymity due to a gag order on civil servants.

“Our country, we are testing more and more and deaths are coming in. That means we are still not testing enough because if you test more, at least 50 per cent of your patients should be isolated early, given early treatment, and these people will end up not going for severe Covid and being ventilated and they will be saved from ICU and deaths.”

The anonymous doctor also projected Pahang to be the next state to report a Covid-19 outbreak, pointing out that the state capital of Kuantan is a population-dense area.

Since March 11 for seven weeks, the overall trend of average daily Covid-19 cases in Pahang has been increasing, although there have been several dips in the average daily cases for three separate weeks.

Between April 29 and May 5, the average daily Covid-19 cases reported in Pahang was 48 cases, almost seven times higher than the average daily cases between March 11 and March 17 (seven cases).

The doctor also explained that Malaysia’s SOP is not science-based as he asked for the rationale of implementing an MCO in Kuala Lumpur but allowing Ramadan bazaars to operate.

“You have Raya — 20 people in the house — the cases are going to go up,” the medical practitioner added.

“You know (in Singapore), they only allow eight people for dining and meetings and all that have dropped to five. So, that is a way to conduct a proper MCO. When you are doing an MCO, you allow the economy to run, but at the same time, you have to meet control measures.”

Despite the surge of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia that exceeded more than 4,000 daily infections for two days on May 7 and 8, the National Security Council (NSC) allows Hari Raya visits for MCO areas (maximum 15 guests at a time, and only on the first day of Raya), Conditional MCO areas (maximum 20 guests at a time throughout the first three days of Raya), and Recovery MCO areas (maximum 25 guests at a time throughout the first three days of Raya).

Covid-19 Case Trends Nationwide, Sarawak, Selangor, KL, Kelantan, Pahang

After the seven-week MCO 2.0 that ended on March 4, the nation only saw a decline of average daily Covid-19 cases for four weeks long between March 5 and April 7. After April 7, Malaysia’s average daily Covid-19 cases have been continuously rising almost by 2.5 times from 1,281 average daily cases between April 1 and 7, to 3,173 cases a day on average between April 29 and May 5.

While Covid-19 cases have also been increasing, the nation’s average daily Covid-19 deaths reported also showed a drastic spike over the past three weeks, from an average of seven daily deaths between April 15 and 21, to an average of 16 deaths a day between April 29 and May 5.

Unlike the third wave, where Covid-19 cases were initially rising in Sabah followed by Klang Valley, during these past couple of weeks, Malaysia has seen multiple outbreaks in many states like Sarawak, Kelantan, Selangor, and Kuala Lumpur simultaneously.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said last Friday that 22 Covid-19 hospitals recorded a bed occupancy rate for Covid-19 ICUs exceeding 70 per cent, while some exceeded 90 per cent. Active Covid-19 ICU cases climbed to 416 patients as of yesterday, as well as 216 on ventilator support.

Sarawak has been reporting a consecutive increase in average daily Covid-19 cases from 200 cases in the week of March 11-17, to 587 average daily cases in the week of April 15-21, an increase of 193.6 per cent.

Over the past five weeks from April 1, Selangor has also been reporting a continuous surge of Covid-19 cases, hitting about 937 infections a day in the past week from April 29 to May 5, the highest in the country.

Kuala Lumpur has been reporting an increase in average daily Covid-19 cases for five weeks consecutively since between March 25 and March 31 (68 cases) till April 22 and April 28 (309 cases). This was followed by a small decline to 289 daily cases on average between April 29 and May 5.

Kelantan also reported a surge in its average daily Covid-19 cases from 53 cases between April 1 and 7, to 490 cases between April 22 and 28, a nine-fold increase. This was followed by a small decline to 401 daily cases between April 29 and May 5.

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