KUALA LUMPUR (April 14): The Ministry of Health (MoH) has not managed to bring up its daily testing capacity for Covid-19 to 16,500 tests per day, a target it previously said would be achieved by mid-April.
As of today, the government is capable of conducting up to 11,500 tests daily, across 43 laboratories in the country. When the pandemic first started, the daily testing capacity was at 3,500.
MoH director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah added that five more laboratories are currently being built in Tawau, Sandakan, Miri, Bintulu and Kluang to further boost the nation's Covid-19 testing capacity.
For the time being, Noor Hisham Abdullah said the ministry is currently working to optimise the use of existing laboratories in the country by shifting its strategy to conduct an antibody test (serology) instead of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for those who have been in close contact with Covid-19 patients and been quarantined.
This is because, according to Noor Hisham, PCR tests take a longer period of time as their samples need to be sent to the laboratories, compared with antibody tests that can be done on-site.
A PCR test typically takes six hours but because of the large volume of samples to be tested and having to get these samples to the laboratory, such a test can take up to 48 hours before the results can be obtained, he said.
Dr Noor Hisham said the antibody tests will be conducted for close contacts who are about to end their 14-day quarantine period to determine if they are cleared for release. However, close contacts will still be required to undergo a PCR test at the start of their quarantine.
"On the first day, we will still take a PCR swab. On the 13th day, we used to take another PCR [swab]. Now, we are using serology or antibody test because it is faster, easier and can be done at the bedside. If it turns out positive, then we will reconfirm with a PCR test.
"If their first PCR test was negative and on the 13th day the blood test also shows there is no antibody, then the virus is not present. That is how we can save (on the tests)," he said.
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