Chasing faster Covid-19 tests, Health D-G says must have bullets ready when going war

Jerry Choong
A health worker swabs a driver’s mouth at a drive-through testing site for Covid-19 at KPJ Ampang Puteri, April 6, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

PUTRAJAYA, April 7 — Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has stressed the importance of cutting Covid-19 screening times to contain its spread, likening the tests to ammunition in the proverbial war against the pandemic.

He said present testing procedures for samples take a minimum of six hours to return results, leading to thousands of backlogged cases.

“This is for RT-PCR testing, where six hours is the normal period. But then you factor in volume so it probably takes more than 24 hours for results to emerge,” Dr Noor Hisham said at the daily Health Ministry press conference.

Although the private sector is offering tests that can produce results within the 24-hour timeframe, he said in certain scenarios it could take more than 48 hours to emerge.

“That is understandable, plus the time taken to transport the samples to the labs must also be accounted for. But the key thing to remember is that when one goes to war, you must have the bullets ready.

“So now we must look into how we can shorten the turnaround time, for example with point-of-care testing and to see if we can identify tests which are high accuracy and reliable,” he said.

The director-general said this is particularly in regard to rapid antigen tests, which can be done at point-of-care and only requires biosafety cabinets found in clinics and hospitals.

“That would greatly reduce the transportation time and boost turnaround time, with results available within one to two hours. If reports on Covid-19 samples can be produced within a few hours, it would make things much easier as opposed to waiting for 24 hours and having to carry the pending reports forward the next day.

“Bear in mind we have limited resources in terms of testing, we cannot possibly test a population of 30 million people. Hence why we are optimising by targeting certain high-risk groups, utilising our available technical expertise and personnel to localise them using technology to track and trace,” Dr Noor Hisham said.

The ministry is currently able to conduct up to 11,500 Covid-19 tests daily, and it has repeatedly stated its aim of boosting this to at least 16,500 tests, and possibly reaching as high as conducting 20,000 tests daily.

As of 12pm today, 170 new Covid-19 positive cases have been reported, bringing the total number of cases in Malaysia to 3,963. Eighty people have recovered and were allowed to be discharged today, bringing the total number of recoveries and discharges to 1,321.

Currently 92 Covid-19 cases are being treated in Intensive Care Units, with 50 of them requiring breathing assistance. The Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre also recorded one death from Covid-19 today, a 71-year-old man from Perlis who attended the religious gathering in Sulawesi, Indonesia last month and who died after seeking treatment in Johor.

Worldwide the number of Covid-19 cases has since reached 1,359,010, with 293,454 recoveries and 75,901 deaths respectively. The United States, Spain, and Italy occupy the top three ranks of countries most affected by the pandemic, with 367,650 infections and 10,943   deaths, 140,510 infections and 13,798 deaths, and 132,547 infections and 16,523 deaths, respectively.


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