Danger in our midst: Ramp up daily Covid-19 tests to catch asymptomatic Category Ones

On July 15, the number of positive Covid-19 cases in Malaysia shot up to an all-time high of 13,215, up from 11,618 the previous day.

On July 20, the figure was 12,366. While the ordinary Malaysian was concerned about the high figures, the authorities did their best to allay their fears.

Covid-19 is a five-category illness, with Category One being the mildest, and Category Five, the most severe.

According to Health director-general, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, more than 98 per cent of the positive cases belonged to Categories One and Two, which had little, or no symptoms.

This gave the impression that the higher daily cases were not a cause for concern, since only cases in Categories Three to Five would add pressure to the country’s hospital facilities, especially the availability of intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

The Health Ministry also proudly announced that our vaccination rate was one of the highest in the world – thereby deflecting the main issue of higher daily cases.

This is where the danger lies; glossing over the number of cases in Categories One and Two (representing more than 98 per cent of the daily cases), which to my mind, is just the tip of the iceberg.

We should be concerned with these high figures. Be mindful that the results are correct at the time of assessment, but over the next few days, these cases might progress to Category Three and above.

The number of tests conducted a day is just a sample of the entire population; the higher the sampling size, the more representative it is of the population.

But what about the other asymptomatic ones who are not detected because of the small sampling size – those who are unaware of their condition and who freely roam and infect others? They are lurking in our midst (at the bank, supermarket, wet market, or the neighbourhood kopitiam).

Had the ‘net’ been cast wider (which would ensure a larger number of people being tested daily), more of the asymptomatic ones would have been ‘captured’, thereby preventing them from spreading the virus.

It is this group of positive asymptomatic ones that we should be most fearful of; those who were detected upon testing, and those who ‘escaped’ being tested and remained oblivious to their condition.

The latter are unaware and unknowingly spreading the virus to their families, loved ones and co-workers, especially if they are infected with the more potent Delta variant!

Nationwide, we are not doing enough testing. Secondly, there has been a wide discrepancy in the number of tests carried out each day.

According to news reports, Malaysia’s daily test performance averaged 2,800 per million population (the figure was only 1,600 for the first 5.5 months of this year) compared to the United Kingdom, which performed a daily average of 12,000 tests per million.

As for the wide difference in the number of daily tests, the figures speak for themselves.

For instance, on May 29, a total of 126,480 tests were done, resulting in 9,020 new cases, which triggered the nationwide lockdown on June 1.

Ten days later, on June 8, only 77,030 tests were performed, resulting in a lower figure of only 5,566, giving the false sense of hope that the situation was improving.

Our new case figures have been understated, simply because we did not do enough daily tests. Those not detected (because of the smaller sample size), particularly the asymptomatic ones, continue to spread the virus at will. This explains why the virus is already pervasive in our community.

It is imperative to ramp up the number of daily tests (similar to our recent energised and impressive vaccination rate), with special attention given to target groups.

The number of daily tests should be maintained at a high level, at least above 130,000 per day, and should not vary widely daily. Malaysians should be warned ahead of time of the higher spike in figures expected due to the ramping up of the number of daily tests.

Those in Categories One and Two should be placed under the care of general practitioners close to their homes, where close monitoring can be done even by phone.

While our vaccination rate is praiseworthy and commendable, the same cannot be said of our testing rate. A two-pronged approach is crucial and necessary if we want to win this war against this invisible virus.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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