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Responding to COVID-19 under-testing claims, Dr Noor Hisham says Malaysia did more than enough

Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that Malaysia has done more than enough tests to detect COVID-19, in response to claims that insufficient number of tests are being carried out during the Chinese New Year (CNY) break.

In a Facebook post, Dr Noor Hisham said that there have recently been vocal criticisms against the Ministry of Health (MOH) for allegedly not doing enough tests to detect and contain the COVID-19 spread, especially during the three-day period of Chinese New Year public holiday and weekend on February 12 to February 14.

“As 23 private labs make up 66.7 per cent of the national COVID-19 maximum RT PCR testing capacity (51,208 out of 76,805 RT PCR tests per day), understandably, many were not operating at total capacity or received fewer samples over the CNY weekend,” he explained in the Facebook post.

Attached to his Facebook post was a chart of the daily number of COVID-19 tests in Malaysia through both the Reverse Transcriptase. Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) method and the Antigen Rapid Test Kit (RTK-Ag) method for a one-month period from January 17 to February 18.

The chart showed a noticeable dip in the daily number of total COVID-19 screening in the country, with 30,121 tests on February 12, 23,470 tests on February 13, and 22,490 tests on February 14.

In comparison, the chart showed the daily number of many of the other days within the one-month period to be within the 40,000 to 70,000 range.

After the three-day dip from February 12 to February 14, the daily number of COVID-19 tests picked up again on February 15 at 41,895 tests, while the number of tests in the following days of February 16 to February 18 were above the 50,000 mark.

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Despite the reduced testing during the Chinese New Year period, Dr Noor Hisham cited February 15 figures as showing that Malaysia had enough COVID-19 testing.

“On 15 February 2021, we reported 2,176 positive COVID-19 cases. Did we had inadequate testing? 

“The total RT PCR and RTK Ag tests done was 41,895 tests, which was more than the 10 per cent (i.e. 21,760 tests) benchmark. 

“Hence, our daily testing on 15 February of 41,895 was almost twice as much and more than enough, despite reduced tests done in private and other non-MOH labs,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham was referring to the World Health Organisation’s March 30, 2020 recommendation for countries to test at the level of ten negative tests to one positive case, as a general benchmark of a healthcare system doing sufficient testing to detect all COVID-19 cases.

“It is a guiding principle that you would want a low percentage of tests to come back positive, around 10 per cent or even lower,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham also said that the Health Ministry uses the Public Health Laboratory Information System to track the quantity and results of COVID-19 testing, with the number of individuals tested and the test results reported every day by public and private labs.

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Healthcare news CodeBlue had reported earlier this week that the number of people tested nationwide dropped from 61,483 people on February 10 to 24,276 people on February 15. 

It also reported that on that day, 16,464 RT-PCR tests were conducted — utilising only 21 per cent of the actual capacity of 76,805. ― Malay Mail