Adham: Malaysia Targets 1% Of Covid-19 Cases For Genomic Sequencing

Singapore does SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequencing on 6% of positive cases, while Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia sequence less than 1%.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — The government aims to multiply SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequencing from 0.17 per cent to more than 1 per cent of positive Covid-19 cases to identify variants, Dr Adham Baba said today.

The government has allocated RM3 million to a consortium of universities and research institutes under the Ministry of Health (MOH); the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI); and the Ministry of Higher Education (KPT) to run SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequencing on 3,000 samples in three months from August.

The health minister said the genomic sequencing on 3,000 samples from next month would comprise more than 1 per cent of all positive Covid-19 cases. This, however, presumes that only 100,000 new infections will be reported each month for the next three months. 

From July 1 to 26, a total of 275,975 cases were reported. In the month of June, Malaysia reported 179,622 coronavirus cases.

“For comparison, genomic sequencing capacity in several Asean countries is as follows: Singapore (6 per cent), Thailand (0.43 per cent), Vietnam (0.31 per cent), Indonesia (0.11 per cent), and Cambodia (0.82 per cent).

“Among the criteria used for the choice of samples are samples with a cycle threshold value of below 25, samples from high positivity rate clusters, cases of death/ BID (brought-in-dead), or ICU (intensive care unit) cases,” Dr Adham said in a briefing to the special Dewan Rakyat meeting today on the government’s Covid-19 public health response.

As of July 26, the Institute for Medical Research and other agencies have run genomic sequencing on 1,668 cases, comprising 0.17 per cent of all positive cases. Public universities under KPT sampled the most cases at 846, followed by MOH’s 707 and MOSTI’s 115.

“From this amount, SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC) were identified in 409 cases. It is found that cases with VOC have been increasing since May 2021,” said Dr Adham.

“This development is in line with the situation in other countries where VOC, like the Delta variant, have a higher infectivity rate.”

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah reported last Friday that from July 12 to 22, VOC were found in 119 coronavirus cases, 106 of which was Delta, followed by 10 Beta and three Alpha cases. 

Sarawak reported the highest number of Delta infections in that period with 76 cases, followed by Selangor (10), Pahang (eight), Johor (four), Kuala Lumpur (three), Kedah (two), and one each in Perak, Negeri Sembilan, and Kelantan. 

To date as of July 22, a total of 189 Delta cases have been reported nationwide, 92 of which were found in Sarawak. Cases with the highly infectious variant have also been detected in all other states except Penang.

The high number of Covid-19 cases with the Delta variant reported in Sarawak may be due to active genomic sequencing by the Institute of Health and Community Medicine of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas). It is unknown how much genomic sequencing is done in other states by other research institutes. 

Sarawak state health department director Dr Mohamed Sapian Mohamed said in a statement last July 25 that Delta was predominantly detected in Kuching with 69 cases, followed by Samarahan (10), Serian (six), Sri Aman (five), Miri (two), and Sibu (one).

Of the 93 Delta cases reported to date, 60 per cent (56 cases) were unvaccinated, while 29 per cent (27 cases) were partially vaccinated with one dose, and 11 per cent (10 cases) received two doses before they tested positive. 

“However, only eight cases were fully vaccinated, ie: more than 14 days after the second dose,” said Dr Mohamed Sapian.

He pointed out that 98 per cent of these 93 Delta cases had asymptomatic or mild infection, while only one required intensive care and is currently in stable condition. No fatalities were reported in these cases.

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