By Michelle Ng
It is logical and quite a known fact that increased testing is essential in battling Covid-19. The reason is simple – more tests would allow early detection. This is important given that approximately 80% of Covid-19 patients in Malaysia are asymptomatic. Many do not even know that they are carriers. With early detection, patients can be isolated faster and earlier, thus curbing community spread.
Undoubtedly, cost becomes a consideration. Commercially, in private hospitals, an RT-PCR test can cost anywhere between RM230-RM300, whilst the current market rate of an RTK Antigen test is between RM50-RM150. RT-PCR samples are comparatively more expensive to process.
Results of RT-PCR tests take at least 24 hours to 5 days. The length of time also depends on whether the hospital or clinic has an outsourced laboratory, or has one in-house. RTK Antigen tests, on the other hand, can be processed within 3 to 6 hours.
There is a point to note – RT-PCR tests is still the gold standard for the diagnosis of Covid-19, given its high sensitivity. RTK-Antigen test device on the other hand, has a sensitivity rate of 90%.
For the reasons above, the cost and turnaround time of RTK Antigen tests makes it more appropriate for the purpose of mass testing. And it also allows testing to be more accessible for the man on the street.
At the Selangor State level, mass testing have served to assist with targeted response. As an example, two community testing have been organised in Taman Bayu Perdana, which have seen outbreaks in nearby factories: the first one was conducted on 23 December 2020 – out of the 915 tested, 63 were positive (60 locals and 3 foreigners) and the second one on 3 January – from the 75 per cent sample analysed so far, out of 1,021 samples, 45 were positive (33 locals and 12 foreigners). This represents 4.4 per cent Positivity Rate. WHO recommends a Positivity Rate of <5 per cent as a threshold of controlled community spread.
Granted, increased testing will increase the number of daily recorded cases. However, we must take the bull by the horns. Investing in mass testing now is better than the larger national and economic cost that we would have to bear later. Let us not be penny wise, pound foolish.
It is for all the reasons above that my office decided to partner with QHC, which is located in Taipan, to bring RM70 RTK Antigen testing for Form 5, college and university students, and those living and working in Subang Jaya. I am happy to announce that as at the time of writing (28 January 2021), QHC has conducted over 500 tests since the programme was launched on 15 January 2021.
The purpose of this programme is so that Subang Jaya, too, can play its part in this pandemic, fulfilling the call of a ‘whole of government’ and ‘whole of society’ approach in battling Covid-19.