Increase targeted testing, says Tony Pua

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 7 – The Health Ministry (MOH) has to drastically increase its targeted testing and put in place a National Testing Plan, as part of a whole of government and whole of nation approach to fighting COVID-19 and its variants, said Tony Pua, DAP National Publicity Secretary and Member of Parliament for Damansara in a statement today.

It must be committed to large scale implementation of the Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FTTIS) methodology to contain the virus, as proposed in the National Recovery Plan. 

Failing to do this will result in an over-stretched health service as there will be insufficient beds, equipment and facilities to cope with the number of cases as they will continue to rise for the next few weeks until the community achieves a degree of herd immunity via vaccination or infection, he said. 

Tony Pua said the insufficient tests being carried out was the biggest reason for the spike in Covid-19 positive cases in the Klang Valley.

Commenting on the three factors cited yesterday by Deputy Health Director-General Health Dr Chong Chee Kheong for the worsening crisis, namely the relaxed movement control order (MCO) from July 17, easing of restrictions in several economic sectors, the after effects of the 20 July Aidiladha celebrations and the more aggressive Delta strain of the virus, Tony Pua said however, neither the Health Ministry or Dr Chong have provided any statistics to support them.

“What Dr Chong failed to note however, is the fact that the Klang Valley has been under MCO since 24 May to date (nearly 11 weeks), with varying degrees of restrictions.  The overwhelming bulk of economic and social activities have been completely shut down.  And yet, the number of COVID-19 cases have continued to spiral very rapidly.  Most of these cases have been classified as ‘sporadic’ community cases.

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Referring to a chart (above) that tracks average daily test samples and COVID-19 positive cases on a weekly basis, Tony Pua said the positivity rate (number of positive cases divided by number of test samples) has been rising almost continuously since the first week of MCO, despite the lockdown. 

“The rise in positivity did not just happen in the last 2 or 3 weeks after the lifting of the ‘enhanced’ MCO or the Aidiladha celebrations.

“Instead, from the data provided by the Health Ministry, the most obvious reason why the number of COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate has been rising persistently is because it has failed to carry out sufficient tests, proportionate to the positivity data from the test samples.

“It is clear that despite the positivity rate was well above 6.5% for the first few weeks of MCO, the drastic decline in testing carried out have contributed significantly to subsequent drastic rise in COVID-19 cases.  The average daily test samples taken dropped by 34% from 109,601 cases in the first week of MCO to only 72,308 cases in the fifth week.”

The severe shortage of tests contributed to the increased number of undetected cases in the community, with the close contacts not traced and the necessary isolation not enforced, Tony Pua said, adding that the absence of these measures have led to the drastic increase in positivity in the last few weeks.

It is true that the Health Ministry has since increased the number of test samples to above 140,000 samples a day in the last 2 weeks.  However, the positivity rate has already spiked even faster to more than 13% this week.  This is more than double the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended threshold of 5%.

If at the positivity rate of 6.5%, the number of test samples taken was not sufficient then it is crystal clear that at double the rate, 13% today, the number of tests being carried out is even more insufficient.