KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia was one of the first few countries in the world to use Antigen Rapid Test Kit (RTK-Ag) as COVID-19 screening test, said Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
He said the Health Ministry (MOH) has been using it since June last year and the kit was evaluated by the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) and the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) to ensure compliance with the standards required, and later approved by the Medical Device Authority (MDA) for wider use in the community.
Muhyiddin said this in response to an open letter sent to him by a group of health experts on Jan 7, where the group among others called for a ramp up in testing with triaged, mass and frequent testing regiment, utilising RTK-Ag instead of PCR to help to reduce the COVID-19 transmission.
“In line with WHO guidelines, RTK-Ag has been used as a confirmatory result when prevalence of COVID-19 was noted to be high in certain areas or populations. RTK-Ag test was used as a confirmatory test in Sabah since Oct 5 last year.
“MOH has set up five RTK-Ag testing centres in Sabah to increase the capacity of RTK-Ag testing. Up to Jan 14, a total of 365,740 RTK-Ag tests had been conducted with a positivity rate of 3.75 per cent which facilitated MOH in managing the outbreak in Sabah,” he said in a statement issued tonight.
He added MOH was also able to identify the positive cases early, isolate and treat them as well as speeding up contact tracing activities to reduce the spread of the disease to the community.
Meanwhile, to manage the COVID-19 outbreak among foreign workers, he said the Health Ministry collaborated with Social Security Organisation (Socso) to conduct mass testing using RTK-Ag test, which enables the early detection of COVID-19 positive cases.
“Up to Jan 13, 146,083 RTK-Ag tests had been done for foreign workers under the Socso screening programme, with 2.0 per cent positivity rate and subsequent isolation,” he said.
With the addition of diagnostic laboratories, Muhyiddin said the capacity has been increased to an average of 60,000 tests per day with the participation of private laboratories under strict monitoring by MOH, employing both Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and RTK-Ag tests.
The labs also routinely conduct testing to identify new variants of COVID-19 strains in Malaysia, thus enabling MOH to further improve its management strategies.
“MOH is also researching alternative methods of testing, for example, saliva testing and other new methods available in the market,” he added.
On protecting the heavily burdened healthcare workers in public hospitals, the prime minister assured the decision to decant COVID-19 patients to private hospitals will also help to lessen their pressure.
For a start, the Finance Minister, Health director-general and other senior government officials held a discussion with the senior management of private hospitals, owned by government-linked companies (GLCs), to kick start the decanting initiative.
“Yesterday, the Health DG held another discussion with the senior management of other private hospitals via video call which was attended by almost 400 participants to start implementing the initiative. I am touched by the prompt support we have received from private hospitals,” he added.
Six main clusters
Meanwhile in a related development, the Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali has revealed that the health cluster and the economy cluster are among six main clusters to be focused on by the government following the establishment of the Emergency Management Technical Committee yesterday.
He said the creation of the six clusters was aimed at coordinating all agencies and ministries involved in ensuring the management of the Emergency throughout the country would run smoothly.
“The four other clusters are security, education, communication as well as federal and state relations,” he said in an exclusive interview with Bernama at his office here today.
Elaborating further, Mohd Zuki said the economy cluster would be responsible for evaluating and recommending national policies and strategies during the Emergency to ensure stability and boost investor confidence.
The health cluster would evaluate and recommend policies and strategies related to public health throughout the Emergency, including the smooth preparation of public health services, adequate supply of medicine and blood, in addition to COVID-19 and the temporary acquisition of assets for health service purposes.
For the security cluster, Mohd Zuki said it would evaluate and recommend national security strategies during the Emergency to maintain, protect and defend the country’s core values including assessing the acts required for temporary enforcement and the temporary acquisition of assets for security purposes.
“For the education cluster, it will evaluate and recommend primary, secondary and tertiary education policies and strategies during the Emergency especially involving education access, examinations and student movement,” he said.
Touching on the communication cluster, Mohd Zuki said it would disseminate accurate information regarding the Emergency to Malaysians in addition to analysing their views throughout the Emergency.
For the federal and state relations cluster, it will coordinate relations between the federal and state governments, especially regarding the coordination and use of state ordinance and enactments, he added.
Functioning as usual
“It must be stated that during the Emergency, state governments function as usual. Only some temporary powers under the Yang di-Pertuan Agong which involve the temporary acquisition of assets as well as buildings or movable property as stated previously,” he said.
Mohd Zuki explained that all members and parties in the six clusters have conducted meetings and carried out their duties that require immediate attention to mitigate side effects if action was delayed, especially to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Therefore, he said that the country’s administration was not affected by the proclamation of Emergency because the service sector, both public and private, will carry on as usual according to the standard operating procedures set in addition to complying with the Movement Control Order (MCO).
“The important thing is that government services are not affected. This is important to the people and investors so that they understand the message, including why the Emergency was declared.
“Even though the MCO was in effect, the number of cases was still too high. That is why it is important for Malaysians to understand and obey the Emergency Ordinance announced so that it can be implemented as best as possible,” he said.
The government yesterday agreed to establish an Emergency Management Technical Committee to ensure the management of the Emergency throughout the country would be run smoothly, said Muhyiddin.
The committee would be jointly chaired by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan and the Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali.
The technical committee will, among others, be responsible for monitoring issues relating to the implementation and management of the Emergency as well as to recommend solutions.
The committee also has the role of coordinating emergency management with relevant parties at federal and state levels apart from heading the monitoring and inspection of the enforcement of emergency law at all levels.
The Prime Minister said the eight-member committee included the director-general of Public Service Department, secretary-general of the Treasury, Attorney-General, Chief of Defence Forces, Inspector-General of Police, Health director-general, MKN director-general and cluster chiefs.