Malaysians lining up for Covid-19 tests as new cases spike

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KUALA LUMPUR: Since the third wave of Covid-19 hit Malaysia in October last year, more and more people are willing to get tested, even though they are asymptomatic or not a close contact.

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Is Malaysia’s testing capacity currently enough to cater to the increasing demand, with the four-digit cases recorded over the months, and in case of a worst-case scenario?

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said the national laboratory capacity for both public and private laboratories is currently at 70,000 tests per day.

This means, if more than 70,000 tests are done in a day, the turnaround time is going to be delayed, he said.

“We should prioritise testing for high-risk groups and test certain communities for surveillance.

“Hence we should start focusing on rapid antigen tests which are fast and more cost-effective for rapid and mass screening,” he told Bernama when contacted.

Dr Subramaniam added that although the Health Ministry (MoH) had stated that it will not screen all close contacts but only those who are symptomatic, MMA feels that the ministry should revert to its earlier policy.

“Its earlier policy of tracing as many close contacts and test all of them to ensure we stop any potential spread of Covid-19 infections in the community.

“If the government’s resources are stretched, it should engage the 7,000 MoH trained general practitioners (GP) to assist them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in his press conference on Thursday that the MoH was expected to increase the capacity of Covid-19 laboratories that can conduct the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (Rt-PCR) tests, to between 100,000 and 150,000 tests per day.

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“So far, we have 68 laboratories that carry out 70,000 Rt-PCR tests per day and the capacity of these laboratories will be enhanced. We will also increase Covid-19 screening by using the Antigen Rapid Test Kit (RTK-Ag),” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham added that Malaysia’s Rt-PCR testing capacity across 68 labs on Jan 20 was 76,255 tests, but only 47,820 tests were conducted, or 63 per cent of the testing capacity.

Apart from the government-owned medical centres, there are now more than 1,000 private premises throughout Malaysia offering RT PCR or RTK swab tests.

According to covid-19.moh.gov.my, until yesterday, a total of 132 licensed private hospitals nationwide are allowed to conduct Covid-19 screening within the premises.

A total of 741 private medical clinics are registered to conduct Covid-19 screening on-site and through outreach, while a total of 816 clinics are allowed to do so in the area of the premises only.

A total of 13 private ambulatory care centres are also allowed to conduct screening tests within the premises, including Mahameru International Medical Centre Sdn Bhd in Kuala Lumpur; Sievert Imaging Centre in Sandakan, Sabah; Anda Diagnostic Centre in Penang; and Sunway Specialist Centre Damansara, Selangor.

On the fees, government hospitals are charging RM150 for Malaysians and RM250 (foreigners) for Rt-PCR; and RM60 (Malaysian) or RM120 (foreigners) for RTK Antigen.

However, government servants returning to Malaysia after performing official duties; Malaysians and foreigners who are suspected of being Covid-19 positive; and residents at Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) areas are among groups that have been exempted from paying for Covid-19 tests.

For private premises, the service fees vary: for example, the Subang Jaya Medical Centre quoted RM295 for Rt-PCR test, where they accept walk-ins; while selected KPJ private hospitals offer drive-thru and walk-in tests from RM299 to RM388 (Rt-PCR).

Pantai Hospital in Ampang is charging RM180 per pax for RTK Antigen and RM250 for Rt-PCR; while the cost is RM260 for Rt-PCR at Pantai Hospital Cheras, and RM480 at Gleneagles Hospital Kuala Lumpur (Rt-PCR).

BP Diagnostic in Taiping and Sitiawan, Perak; Butterworth and George Town, Penang; Alor Star, Kedah; Bahau, Negri Sembilan; OUG , Kepong, Medan Tunku and Cheras, Kuala Lumpur; Kajang, Rawang, Seri Kembangan, Glenmarie and Taman SEA, Selangor; Skudai, Batu Pahat and Muar, Johor; Kuching, Sarawak; Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and Melaka, are charging RM240 for RT PCR. – BERNAMA

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