Weekly Highlights

No screening for close contact?

The Ministry of Health has recently announced that it would not screen asymptomatic close contacts with confirmed COVID patients including family members due to the constraints and the public facilities would screen only those symptomatic direct contact with confirmed COVID cases.  

This strategy is extremely worrying as it actually defies the latest scientific findings. 

Extensive at-the-point-of-care rapid testing is a vital and effective strategy in containing the pandemic due to fact that the vast majority of the COVID patients are asymptomatic, and has made it extremely difficult for clinician to make accurate clinical diagnosis.

The studies have shown that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic COVID positive patients are also infectious even though less infectious than the symptomatic ones, to which the Ministry of Health’s the current strategy of abandoning testing the asymptomatic close contacts to confirmed COVID patients is defying the scientific evidence. 

The Perikatan Nasional leaders have to show their competency and effectiveness in leading the country by respecting the authority of the latest scientific findings: 

(1) According to a recent study done in Singapore which was published in December 2020, symptomatic COVID patients are 3.85 times more infectious than asymptomatic ones. Therefore, when there are approximately every four new COVID patients infected by the symptomatic COVID patients, and there would be one new COVID patient infected by the asymptomatic patients.

(2) The latest study done by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also reveals that more than half of the COVID patients contracted the infection from asymptomatic spreaders.  A recent study done in Singapore showed that the infectivity ratio between asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID patients is  1 to 3.85. 

According to the recent announcement by MOH, 89% of confirmed COVID cases in Malaysia are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. 

Therefore, the likelihood of any Malaysian getting infected by an asymptomatic COVID patients is slightly more than twice (2.10 times) of getting infected by a symptomatic COVID patient due to a much higher proportion of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic COVID patients.

Therefore, abandoning testing on asymptomatic persons-under-investigation by itself is like placing a land mine in one’s own yard which has great self-destructive socio-economic impact on the country in months to come.

(3) The Government should also not ignore the scientific fact that many studies have shown that COVID virus can be transmitted through the air-borne mode, by which it is able to be able to travel as far as 9 meters (27 feet) in micro-droplets of less than 5 micrometers and be viable in the air for hours.

This particular scientific finding should have alarmed the authorities concerned to enforce MCO more effectively and ensure the public abide by MCO rules and regulations in order to achieve the desired results.  

I would like to urge the Perikatan Nasional government to act more responsively according to the latest scientific evidence and data than to act in defying the latest scientific findings.

Not only these measures, that are going against scientific evidence, would not be able to contain the pandemic in a short period of time, they would actually further aggravate the crisis.  

There are complaints that asymptomatic close family members of confirmed COVID patients have been told that no testing would be performed on them unless symptoms develop, due to over-constraints of government resources.

A contingency government funding should be channelled into ramping up mass testing during MCO 2.0 while using effective public health means to contain the epidemic. 

The authorities concerned should realize that the main focus of MCO is to stabilize population movements and to identify both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected COVID cases by relentlessly carrying out contact tracings and extensive testing campaign.

Without extensive testing on the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic close contacts to confirmed COVID patients, it would defeat the purpose of imposing MCO 2.0. On the contrary, it would allow the epidemic spread faster albeit insidiously. 

In the meanwhile, the government has to announce its detailed plan for the mass vaccination rollout as soon as possible.

These efforts of mass testing and vaccination in containing the pandemic is vital in reviving the economy as having been evidenced by the fact that China, Vietnam and Taiwan have effectively contained COVID epidemic at a much earlier stage, and they have managed to maintain positive economic growth rates at +2% in 2020.  

I also urge the entrepreneurs in the country to view extensive testing and future vaccination on their employees as a long-term investment in order to restore their productivity. The private sector should join in the efforts in carrying out mass testing and vaccination on workers as part of their long-term investment and an effort to restore industries.  

Dr. Boo Cheng Hau

DAP Johor State Committee Member

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