Why Malaysia Is Likely Under-Reporting Covid-19 Cases

Kelantan — with 4,561 official Covid-19 cases from May 23-29, the second-highest in Malaysia after Selangor’s 16,944 confirmed infections — recorded the top positive rate at nearly 12%.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 — For the first time in Malaysia’s Covid-19 epidemic after over a year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) finally released testing data by state.

The positive rates across most of the country — amid a brutal new wave of the epidemic that claimed 1,290 lives and officically infected 163,644 people last month alone — were shockingly high, with Kelantan recording the top positive rate in Malaysia at 11.84 per cent in the week of May 23 to 29.

This means that about 12 out of 100 people screened in Kelantan that week on average tested positive for Covid-19, more than double the 5 per cent positive rate recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an indicator of sufficient testing. A higher positive rate means there are more undetected Covid-19 cases that weren’t captured through testing.

In other words, Kelantan likely has far more Covid-19 infections than the 4,561 cases officially reported from May 23 to 29, the second-highest in Malaysia after Selangor’s 16,944 confirmed cases.

Even Selangor may be under-reporting its Covid-19 epidemic, as its positive rate that week — based on the tests run by MOH — was about 8 per cent. The Selangor state government is also separately conducting community testing.

The data on the number of individuals tested in Malaysia and the positive rate by state in the 21st epidemiological week of the year from May 23 to 29 — as revealed by Health Minister Dr Adham Baba at a press conference yesterday — showed that only Perak, Sabah, and Perlis are testing adequately to detect Covid-19 cases. Their positive rates were below 5 per cent; Perlis reported a positive rate of 3.79 per cent.

The national positive rate in the week of May 23 to 29 was 6.89 per cent, based on 53,419 positive cases among 774,973 people tested. In other words, Malaysia may have many more Covid-19 infections than the officially reported 53,419 cases that week.

In contrast, the UK reported a 0.3 per cent positive rate on May 26, based on a rolling seven-day average.

Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Labuan, Putrajaya, Selangor, Melaka, and Kedah all exceeded the 6.89 per cent national positive rate in Malaysia. The positive rates according to states are as below:

  • Kelantan: 11.84 per cent
  • Negeri Sembilan: 10.03 per cent
  • Labuan: 8.78 per cent
  • Putrajaya: 8.61 per cent
  • Selangor: 7.99 per cent
  • Melaka: 7.95 per cent
  • Kedah: 7.70 per cent
  • Terengganu: 5.80 per cent
  • Sarawak: 5.79 per cent
  • Johor: 5.79 per cent
  • Kuala Lumpur: 5.72 per cent
  • Penang: 5.66 per cent
  • Pahang: 5.44 per cent
  • Perak: 4.78 per cent
  • Sabah: 3.83 per cent
  • Perlis: 3.79 per cent

When MOH reported a record high 9,020 new Covid-19 cases nationwide on May 29, the national positive rate was 7.13 per cent. Although officially reported infections dropped subsequently to 6,999 and 6,824 cases on May 30 and May 31 respectively, the positive rates were still high at 6.39 per cent and 7.65 per cent.

The daily number of people tested dropped from 126,480 on May 29 (with 9,020 positive cases), to 109,562 people tested on May 30 (6,999 positive cases), and dipping again to 89,227 individuals tested yesterday (6,824 positive cases).

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