Increase Testing, Not Reduce Testing During This Covid-19 Pandemic

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Statement by YB Kelvin Yii:

The Ministry of Health should look at ramping up our Covid-19 testing abilities especially during this period of MCO and not reducing the amount of test done for cluster and it’s close contacts if they really intend to really curb the spread of the disease in our country especially during this current surge of cases in our country.

I strongly questioning the new direction taken by Ministry of health to not only reduce Covid-19 testing during this MCO period and limit it to certain percentage in a cluster but also only test those that are symptomatic, which will not only “artificially reduced the Covid-19 positive numbers” but also give a false sense of security to those that may be pre-symptomatic or even asymptomatic that still has risk of spreading the virus.

The government should try to achieve the positivity rate <5 % benchmark recommended by experts, which is now at ~8.2% . In order to do that, we need to increase testing and not reducing them.

A circular issued by the Ministry of Health dated 13th January 2021 which came into effect on 14th January 2021, stated that the number of test samples to be taken for Covid-19 clusters or close contacts depends on the size of the cohort. A cohort is defined as the total number of individuals exposed to the virus in a cluster.

If fewer than 50 people are exposed to Covid-19 in a cluster, then 20 test samples are sufficient. If the cohort exceeds 50 people, 30 test samples are enough, or 10 per cent of the cohort, whichever is lower.

If there are symptomatic individuals, such cases are to be isolated and tested for Covid-19. Quarantine on this cohort must be continued for 10 more days from the date the case tested positive for Covid-19. Testing on Day 10 is not required.

So, while other countries do mass testing during lockdowns, Malaysia seems to take the opposite approach.

This is of course contrary to call by many health experts to ramp up testing especially during a period of lockdown/MCO in order to properly determine the real disease burden of the country.

While more testing, even though the numbers may go up, but that gives us a clearer picture of the situation in country and allows us to react quick to isolate them thus decreasing risk of them infecting others as well.

When we do not test enough, the risk is asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people may not know they may be infected because they can’t get tested, and this may give a false sense of security to them, increasing risk of them being lax with the isolation orders and thus risking infecting others as well in their own community.

Even if such close contacts are isolated or given Home Quarantine Order(HQO), but not testing and diagnosing them leads to higher chances of them breaking the SOPs of home quarantine itself.

This also increase risk of us missing out on possible super spreaders that may not show symptoms in the first place.

The bigger issue is how the government seems to be “moving goal posts” when it comes to evaluating the disease burden or even effectiveness of our approach against Covid-19. These kinds of policies reduce our ability to compare apples-to-apples, because the methodology has changed.

By changing the parameters, the risk is MOH now have the possibility of “fixing” or manipulate daily new cases by changing the rules of the game.

That is why I urge the Ministry of Health to be transparent on their new approach and explain to the public the justification of such change. We need to activate a whole of society approach in tackling this virus and thus transparency and accountability is seriously needed to build public confidence on the approach by the Ministry and remove any perception that our Covid-19 figures are somehow massaged or manipulated.

Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching