MMC Gamuda SARS-COV-2 testing laboratory manager Nava Yugavathy demonstrating the use of the Biosafety Class II Cabinet at the lab.

KUALA LUMPUR: Construction giant Gamuda Bhd and its joint-venture entity MMC Gamuda (MGJV) has unveiled its own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) laboratory to expedite Covid-19 screening and monitoring among its workers.

Located at Jalan Chan Sow Lin here, the facility equipped with the latest technology was up and running in just four weeks after the proposal was approved.

The establishment of the lab, which will now be used to screen up to 20,000 personnel of all levels, is an initiative of the group’s in-house Covid-19 task force.

Syed Noor Kamal Syed Hussein, head of MGJV’s emergency response team, said the task force was established to set policies and guidance that are then cascaded down to all business units and contractors.

“It’s about taking a pre-emptive stance instead of waiting for intervention, ” said Syed Noor Kamal, who oversees the health and wellbeing of over 7,000 workers at various Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project worksites stretching over a 50km alignment.

The lab utilises two state-of-the-art PCR machines with a combined capacity of processing nearly 4,000 samples a day.

An in-house PCR lab is pre-emptive, said Syed Noor Kamal.An in-house PCR lab is pre-emptive, said Syed Noor Kamal.

Under a roster, everyone will be screened every fortnight to ensure timely and appropriate action can be taken if anyone tests positive for Covid-19.

MGJV is currently screening around 14,000 workers every fortnight, with the eventual aim of ramping up to 20,000 workers.

To ensure traceability, every staff is issued a personal QR code to ensure all processes from swab taking to lab processing to test results are secured on a common database.

“Prior to having in-house PCR, we were using a combination of antibody rapid test kits, and antigen rapid test kits (RTK-Ag). RTK-Ag already requires a nasopharyngeal swab to be taken from the person.

“As the person is subject to the same discomfort of having a swab taken, regardless of whether it is RTK-Ag or PCR (which is the gold standard), we thought why settle at silver?” said Syed Noor Kamal, adding that an internal study concluded that the long term cost of doing PCR tests in-house can bring down the cost to be lower than RTK-Ag tests.In fact, the cost of conducting PCR testing in-house is much lower than the current market price of RTK-Ag in the private sector.

More importantly, MGJV’s lab is performing on par with other established labs, even those from developed countries, both in terms of efficiency and accuracy.

“We discovered in our test runs that our findings are in line with many leading global researchers, whereby pool screening (a method to boost efficiency by scrutinising more samples using less test reagents) - even when limited to below five samples, versus loading samples for screening individually - has negligible impact on testing accuracy, ” said Syed Noor Kamal.

MGJV can obtain PCR results in just three hours, said Wong.MGJV can obtain PCR results in just three hours, said Wong.

While the conventional approach to PCR lab screening would test 94 samples at one time, MGJV would be able to screen five times more, or 470 samples, within the same time frame using similar equipment.

But ultimately, the rationale for doing PCR testing in-house goes beyond cost factors as there are huge time savings, which is of great importance when MGJV is in the midst of constructing critical national infrastructure such as the MRT Putrajaya Line.

MGJV project director Datuk Wong Wai Ching said with external PCR labs, the waiting time for getting a result can range from one to three days, and in the meantime, everyone will have to be isolated.

“This waiting time can be quite stressful, and not having people to work for up to three days is also costly, ” said Wong, who added MGJV can now obtain PCR results in just three hours.

MGJV is currently utilising only half of the lab’s capacity, as one PCR machine can already serve the group’s needs, with the other one serving as backup.

“With spare capacity, we are even ready to assist the Health Ministry when it comes to testing if so needed, ” added Wong.

Earlier last week, the Government ordered at least two construction sites to be closed after hundreds of workers came down with the disease, such as a site at Jalan Damanlela in Pusat Bandar Damansara.

Mass testing of the Damanlela cluster eventually found more than 1,300 of them infected, resulting in huge turmoil within the construction industry and regulators.

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