Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye says Malaysia’s maximum capacity of 200,000 tests a day is far from adequate.

PETALING JAYA: A former deputy health minister says the country’s limited testing capacity should be focused on localities with high transmission and high-risk groups.

Dr Lee Boon Chye said Malaysia’s maximum capacity of 200,000 tests a day was far from adequate.

Commenting on calls for mass testing to be done during the two weeks of lockdown, Lee said the situation would have been different if the government had invested in mass testing from the beginning.

“If we have the capacity to test everyone twice during the two-week nationwide lockdown, we can be certain to cut down the transmission rate tremendously,” he said.

At the current capacity, he said, it would take 160 days to test one round of the population, adding that the identification and isolation of cases would be slower than the emergence of new cases.

“Despite this, when the daily new infections are reduced during the total lockdown, mass testing for localities where local transmission is still active becomes important going forward to keep the outbreak in check.

“This is provided the health ministry analyses the data available to them and can identify these localities,” he said.

Lee also said resources, including military personnel, should be deployed for the targeted mass testing.

He said the government could also look to China, which introduced mobile testing laboratories that had the capacity to test one million of their population a day within 24 hours in localities affected by the virus.

He said the cost of a prolonged lockdown far outweighed the cost of mass testing.

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In mass testing, quick results with reasonable accuracy was the most important factor. “Hence, an RTK-Antigen test should be the choice. The cost per test can be as low as RM10 to RM20 when mass testing is done. Although an RT-PCR test is more accurate, it is more timing-consuming.

“There are also other newer technologies available, including a Covid breath test which claims to give even faster results. Perhaps, the health ministry should explore these newer options.”

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) said the best time to conduct mass screenings would be the current total lockdown as most people were at home.

MMA president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said there was no doubt that the RTK-Antigen test should be used in mass screenings as this would detect positive cases, isolate them and trace all close contacts more quickly to prevent further spread, increased hospitalisation and deaths.

He told FMT that all states should run mass RTK-Antigen screening programmes supported by the federal government.

“With high community transmission, RTK-Antigen screening is the fastest and cheapest method.

“Much better outcomes can be achieved with early detection of Covid-19. Late detection can lead to complications and, in some cases, ‘brought in dead’ (BID) patients because medical attention is delayed,” he said.

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