Go for mass-testing, optimise private laboratories – Yeo Bee Yin

SUBANG JAYA, June 22 – Former minister Yeo Bee Yin has expressed shock over a disclosure by Health Director General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah Sunday that private laboratories were now running at only 30 percent of their capacity for COVID-19 testing.

In a media statement issued today, the Member Parliament for Bakri called on the government to use the under-utilised 70 percent capacity of private laboratories to embark on mass-testing, considering that the country was at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

Many countries that successfully curbed the virus spread recorded a positive rate lower than one percent but in Malaysia, as of 6th June to 12th June, most of the states recorded positive rate of above five percent including Johor, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Sarawak, Selangor, KL, Labuan and WP Putrajaya. 

Yeo Bee Yin said this could mean that the “daily figure reported by the Health Ministry is essentially lower than the reality on the ground.”

With sporadic cases rising from 52 percent in late March to 84.3 percent in early June, the virus may already be spreading in the community widely without notice since most of the positive cases are asymptomatic, she said, reiterating the call for mass-testing. 

“We should learn from others. In October 2020, when a dozen cases linked to a hospital treating Covid-19 patients were discovered in Qing Dao, China, the city government embarked on mass-testing of 9 million people in 5 days. Similarly, in May 2021, when Victoria state, Australia, went state-wide lockdown, they also went into mass-testing as one of the steps to curb virus spreading.”

However, the government machinery may not be able to cope with what is required, she said, adding that the local health departments were close to a burnout and the ICU beds were full with Covid patients and vaccination programs running in full steam.

It is time for the government to engage the private sector, especially the under-utilised private labs, she said.

“Why not the government engage them to run the mass-testing program?”

“We do have the resources to do it. The government allocated RM600 billion to fight Covid.  Test-trace-isolate-treat should be up in the priority list (together with vaccination) to contain virus by breaking the infection chain. To put into perspective, every day of MCO 3.0 is a RM 1 billion loss to the economy.

“With RM 1 billion, we can give free testing to more than 20 million people! Of course, we should also allocate funds to be prepared for the surge of positive cases that come with more testing, by beefing up tracing capacity and facilities in the quarantine centers, preparing enough home quarantine kits with oximeter, self-testing kit, movement tracking-device etc. All in all, the budget needed for successful test-trace-isolate-treat initiative will just be a fraction of the RM 600 billion Covid-19 budget.”

She said the mass testing and mass vaccination combo will play a significant role in keeping Covid-19 under control.