‘Consider random testing’

PETALING JAYA: In light of active clusters cropping up nationwide, experts say Malaysia should consider random testing for Covid-19 to identify asymptomatic cases.

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said until Malaysia started to conduct more random screening, the country would have to deal with new clusters popping up all over the nation.

He said that while the Health Ministry was still sticking to its earlier strategy of conducting targeted screening, there was now a need to move on from this game plan.

“Target screening is good when battling a recent introduction in any outbreak. But we have reached a point where we need to do more random screening because we don’t know the extent to which the virus is present in the community.“In many countries, we can see the data on asymptomatic cases are quite high. As these people don’t have symptoms, they will not show up in hospital and the Health Ministry will not know about them.

“They will only be picked up when they need compulsory Covid-19 screening, such as before surgery or when reporting for work. Unless we do more screening, we will have to deal with new clusters popping up all over, ” he said.

As an example, the Maju cluster in Kuala Lumpur emerged when workers at an eatery were found to be infected through random screening tests in premises around the city.

Dr Sazaly said with the emergence of more clusters in the future, the country’s frontliners would go through “response fatigue” and there is a risk that Malaysians may become even more complacent in the fight against the virus.

“This is not unique to Malaysia; we have also seen this in Australia and South Korea. The Health Ministry should allow a lot more tests to become available, ” he said.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said all indicators for Covid-19 showed the outbreak in the country was plateauing, but there had been concerns over the new outbreaks recently, especially in Sarawak and Kedah.

“This is due to the potential threat of the new mutated strain being more contagious, ” she said.

There are currently nine active Covid-19 clusters in Malaysia, with one having been confirmed to have the D614G mutation, which is said to be 10 times more infectious. Two others are being investigated if they have the same strain.

“There is an increase of patients in the intensive care unit compared to the last two weeks, ” said. This shows Malaysians will have to continue complying with the standard operating procedure (SOP) to prevent transmissions.”

Kedah currently has four active clusters, Sivagangga, Sala, Tawar and Muda, of which the Sivagangga cluster was found to have the D614G mutation.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali recently said that investigations were ongoing to ascertain whether the Sala and Tawar clusters, which recorded large numbers of infections, also had the same strain.

The Sivagangga cluster originated from a nasi kandar restaurant owner who broke home quarantine rules after returning from Sivagangga in India.

The largest active cluster currently is the one in Tawar, which so far has 52 active cases, five of whom are being treated in intensive care units (ICU) as of Friday.

Its index case (patient 9,113) is a 53-year-old who had attended a funeral gathering on July 31 and Aug 1.

The authorities also recently imposed the enhanced movement control order (MCO) in the Aman Jaya locality in Kedah.

Kedah has topped the list of states with the most number of clusters, followed by Kuala Lumpur, which had three, Sarawak and Perak, which had one each.

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