Covid-19 cases expected to hit 6k but Health Ministry working to lower it

Hariz Mohd

Modified 25 Mar 2020, 11:09 pm
  • UPDATED 8.15PM | Added more details from Health DG on preparations to meet increased Covid-19 cases and rapid testing.

CORONAVIRUS | The Health Ministry is expecting a spike in the number of Covid-19 positive cases next month but is hopeful that their ongoing activities to curb the virus from spreading will work in time to prevent it.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (above) said that based on the ministry's observations and a report by research house JP Morgan, the country might see the number of cases increase to over 6,000 by mid-April.

"However, we have been conducting public health activities and these paired with the movement control order (MCO), we are hoping to be able to detect positive cases and ensure the patients are isolated and given treatment.

"We are hoping that with these efforts, we will be able to lessen the number of new cases and prevent it from reaching 6,000.

"That is our target. To flatten the exponential curve," Noor Hisham told a press conference in Putrajaya today.

He was responding to a question on whether the ministry was expecting a decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases with the extension of the MCO till April 14 as announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin earlier today.

According to Noor Hisham, it was crucial to flatten the curve in infection rates so that healthcare services would be able to cope with the number of cases.

More than 5,200 beds ready for Covid-19 cases

"So far, we have managed to prepare 3,400 hospital beds, and we target to be able to provide 300 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and ventilators.

"MOH has also increased the number of beds by another 1,892 at our medical institute facilities, which we can use to admit asymptomatic patients who tested positive for Covid-19 or those who have mild symptoms.

"This way, we can free the beds in hospital wards for more serious cases.

"So in total, we have 5,292 beds ready," he said.

On the number of ventilators, Noor Hisham said MOH currently have 526 units which are functioning.

The ministry's plan is to prepare a total of 800 ventilators nationwide, 500 of which are to solely cater for Covid-19 cases.

To reach this number, Noor Hisham said MOH has ordered 229 more units, of which 54 have been received by hospitals while the remaining 175 ventilators are expected to reach them by the first week of April.

Another 60 ventilators are loaned from private healthcare institutions to face the increasing number of Covid-19 cases.

He said Covid-19 patients have a good chance of being cured if they can get proper treatment in time.

This was evident with the decrease in the number of Covid-19 patients in ICU, which has gone down to 45 cases as of noon today from 64 yesterday.

"It shows that if the patients get proper treatment, they can be cured. So when they are showing improvement, we will transfer them to a normal ward.

"So, Covid-19 illness, even at Stage 4 and 5, can be treated if we can provide services and treatment at ICU for them," he said.

MOH expects to increase number of tests to over 16,000 a day

Meanwhile, on the ministry's plan to increase the number of Covid-19 tests, Noor Hisham said they are studying a rapid test kit (RTK) that detects antigens in the human body infected by the virus.

Antigens are molecules that are capable of stimulating the immune response in the body, such as those that can be found on the outer surface of the virus that causes Covid-19.

This is in contrast to tests based on reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) that is the mainstay of Covid-19 testing worldwide, which relies on detecting the presence of the virus by its genetic material.

He said they are hoping to be able to depend on the test kit, which is capable of giving results almost instantly, so that mass testing can be carried out to quickly track down cases in the country.

"This Friday we will see the capability of this RTK for antigen.

"Right now, we have the capability of 18 MOH laboratories, plus five private labs, that can conduct testing on 6,000 samples a day.

"By next week, we are expecting to be able to increase the capacity to 16,000 samples a day. This is without the RTK.

"If the RTK's effectiveness is verified, then we can use this to detect (positive cases) more quickly and accurately," he told the press conference.

The Institute for Medical Research is in discussion to acquire the test kit en masse, he added.

However, Noor Hisham stressed that this RTK is not the same as what is being sold widely to the public today, which detects antibodies instead of antigens.

Yesterday, he had warned the public to exercise caution with regard to Covid-19 RTKs that can be purchased on the market.

He said that many Covid-19 tests sold on the market are can only detect the antibodies produced by the body to fight off an infection, not the presence of the virus itself. Hence, it cannot be used for early diagnosis of the disease.

Keep up with the latest information on the outbreak in the country with Malaysiakini's free Covid-19 tracker. Malaysiakini is providing free access to the most important updates on the coronavirus pandemic. You can find them here.   

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