Bakri MP: Engage under-utilized private labs to run the mass-testing program

By Yeo Bee Yin

 

ON Sunday, Health Ministry’s director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah revealed that private labs are now only running at 30% of capacity for COVID-19 testing.

We are now at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, it is shocking that the ready capacity is still not fully utilized yet to combat the virus.

Many health experts and opposition MPs have been demanding for more testing to be done according to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of test to positive rate to be 5% or lower.

In fact, many countries that successfully curb COVID-19 record a positive rate lower than 1%. However, in Malaysia, between June 6 and June 12, most of the states recorded positive rate above 5% include Johor, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Sarawak, Selangor, KL, Labuan and WP Putrajaya.

Hence the daily figure reported by the Health Ministry is essentially lower than the reality on the ground.

Most importantly, it was also reported that sporadic cases have shot up from 52% in late March to 84.3% in early June. The unlinked transmission is very alarming as the virus may already be spreading in the community widely without notice since most of the positive cases are asymptomatic.

This is a time bomb that needs to be solved. We should learn from others.

In October last year, when a dozen cases linked to a hospital treating COVID-19 patients were discovered in Qing Dao, China, the city government embarked on mass-testing of nine million people in five days.

Similarly, in May 2021, when Victoria state, Australia, went state-wide lockdown, they also went into mass-testing as one of the steps to curb virus spreading.

In Malaysia, we are now recording about 5,000 to 6,000 a day of positive cases with more than three-quarter sporadic cases, it is even more important for us to embark on mass-testing.

Having said that, I do not think the machinery of Government would be able to cope. From what I observed of the health department in Bakri and Muar district, they are near to burnt out as the intensive care units’ (ICU) beds are full with COVID-19 patients and vaccination programs running in full steam.

The Government must now look to the private sector, since there’s 70% under-utilized capacity for testing in private labs now, why not the Government engage them to run the mass-testing program?

We do have the resources to do it. The Government allocated RM600 bil to fight COVID-19. Test-trace-isolate-treat should be up in the priority list (together with vaccination) to contain virus by breaking the infection chain.

To put into perspective, every day of the third movement control order (MCO 3.0) is a RM1 bil lost to the economy. With RM1 bil, we can give free testing to more than 20 million people!

Of course, we should also allocate funds to be prepared for the surge of positive cases that come with more testing, by beefing up tracing capacity and facilities in the quarantine centres, preparing enough home quarantine kits with oximeter, self-testing kit, movement tracking-device etc.

All in all, the budget needed for successful test-trace-isolate-treat initiative will just be a fraction of the RM600 bil COVID-19 budget.

The faster we find out positive cases in the community, isolate them (and treat them when necessary) and trace the close contacts, the faster we can break the infection chain.

This will serve as a good complimentary effort to the vaccination program. I believe that mass testing and mass vaccination combo will play a significant role in keeping COVID-19 under control.

Therefore, I once again call upon the Government to leverage on the under-utilized 70% capacity of private labs to run mass-testing programs and to ensure a successful test-trace-isolate-treat initiative. – June 22, 2021

 

Yeo Bee Yin is the MP for Bakri, Johor.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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