Don’t give false sense of security with reduced testing- Dr Yii

Dr Kelvin Yii

By S. Harrish

THE drop in new Covid-19 cases is due to lower number of tests and it is not a sign that the spread was slowing down due to the lockdown.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said Malaysia only recorded 4,611 cases yesterday, which is near one of the threshold set for Phase 2, but in reality it is down mainly as only 58,384 tests were done and the positive rate was at a high 7.9%.

The test numbers are far from the targeted 150,000 daily testing rate mentioned by the Health DG in January.

“If the Federal government continues at the current rate of low testing nationwide during this lockdown period, they are only setting us up for a surge in new cases once the MCO is eventually eased, defeating the purpose of the recently announced National Recovery Plan.

He said the average positive rate between June 15 and 21 was at a high rate of 7.1%, which meant daily figures are underreported and the situation was much more severe.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a rate of below 5%.

“We cannot continue to keep our heads in the sand and emphasis on total cases as it will not give the real picture of the disease on the ground, unless it is adjusted to the daily numbers of testing and also positive rate.”

Dr Yii said it was even more concerning with the rise of sporadic community cases and the possibility of outbreaks of different variants that may be more infectious and possibly deadly.

According to the Health DG Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia recorded a total of 52,040 new Covid-19 cases during the week ending June 5, with 84.3% reported as sporadic cases.

“There is no other way to detect these sporadic cases more effectively than to change the current policy of testing only symptomatic and close contacts, to mass testing in every district, zones and then repeating it again in zones with high prevalence of positive cases.”

He said this was being practiced in countries that have successfully mitigated the pandemic including the United Kingdom, which had been doing up to 1 million test daily for their 68 million population.

Dr Yii added that the UK, with twice our population, was doing 12.5 times more testing than Malaysia.

To achieve this, he said testing kits should be made affordable and easily accessible by the public even in the private sector.

The price cap of the testing kit itself only is insufficient as it does not include services rendered by the private sector which is not controlled.

“Instead the government should take the extra step of engaging with the private sector, understand the total cost involved and then set a ceiling price of total cost of the kit and services to make sure it is affordable to all and encourage more testing in the community.”

“With that, the government can follow WHO recommendations to have a positive rate of 5% and below for two weeks before considering re-opening the economy.

“They then can do targeted opening based on local and district data rather than a blanket lockdown ban which has very significant economic cost.”

Dr Yii said that based on current statistics, only Perak, Sabah, Penang, Perlis, Terengganu and Pahang have managed to maintain at least two weeks at below 5% positive rate.

“The determination of reopening the economy must be science-based and realistic in its target.”