The federal government must take steps to ensure that not only are sufficient supplies of medical items, especially Covid-19 RTK self-test kits, available nationwide, but to also ensure that prices of such test kits remain affordable.
There should not be a sudden spike in prices, especially when demand for it increases, in view of the current Omicron wave.
One of the fundamental ways of shortening the surge period of Omicron is quick testing. This is because the variant has a rapid pace of transmission, underlying the importance of self-administered PCR tests, which has long been considered the gold standard for detecting Covid-19.
This is important so as to ensure testing labs do not buckle under the strain of unprecedented numbers of cases, with many of these health facilities already facing a shortage in staff. An uncontrollable Omicron outbreak will definitely drive up hospitalisation rates and strain testing facilities.
With the high transmissibility of Omicron, it is inevitable that we will see more infections, more instances of close contact, and more need for testing, especially if the person starts to develop symptoms.
The problem will likely get worse as more people travel for the holidays and fuel new outbreaks, made worse by the possibility of super-spreader events such as the upcoming Johor state election.
If this transition to self-testing is not managed properly, we will see Malaysia running out of test kits, similar to what countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia are facing now.
A surge in cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant has stretched these countries’ testing capabilities to their limits. Rapid antigen tests have run out at many pharmacies, and lines for PCR tests are stretching around the block in cities across these countries.
In the US, Covid-19 is spreading at such a rapid rate that between three and five million tests are needed every day, far more than what the country can currently conduct.
Sabah has reported a shortage of RTK self-test kits, which is worrying considering their recent high caseload, with 1,600 cases detected yesterday alone. This may not be an isolated event, and the federal government must ensure adequate test kits are available.
The government must undertake a general audit of test kits nationwide. With that, they should be able to have a projection of daily testing needs, taking into account the Omicron wave.
The government must also ensure that production and supply of test kits are sufficient. Incentives and grants can be granted to local companies to produce more test kits more. Ideally, the kits should be distributed for free to the public.
Self-test kits are important to properly monitor and control the spread of Omicron, considering the opening of schools and the fact that more people are going back to their offices. With quicker detection, there can be quicker intervention to ensure we will not fly blind during this wave.
As companies and individuals are encouraged to self-test frequently, the government plays an important role to ensure that test kits are continuously available, and also remain continuously affordable.
Omicron is a game-changer and has emphasised the importance of large-scale rapid antigen testing. We must be ready for it, or we will be left behind.
Dr Kelvin Yii Lee is the Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.