Unnecessary For Condos To Force Swab Test On Residents Medical Experts
Public health specialists have criticised condominium managements for requiring its tenants to undergo swab tests, saying that it doesn't help to curb the coronavirus.
Monash University Malaysia public health and health systems researcher Mark Cheong said that even if every tenant submits a negative Covid-19 test result before moving in, he doesn't believe that it will be effective in protecting residents from getting infected.
"This is because the swab test only tells you if the person has the virus at the moment the test was taken.
"Even if a tenant presents with a negative Covid-19 test result, it doesn't prevent them from getting infected with the virus later on and potentially spreading it to other residents," he said.
Cheong added that it doesn't matter whether the requirement is for migrant workers or all tenants regardless of nationality.
Should not be superstitious towards swab tests
Third World Network public health researcher Lim Chee Han reminded that the public should not be superstitious towards swab tests but understand the conditions and constraints of getting screened.
He said swab tests have limitations, such as the inability to detect those who are newly infected. For those recently recovered from the virus, there can be a positive result when undergoing RT-PCR tests, even if they are no longer able to infect others.
Lim agreed with Cheong that swab tests could only detect whether a person is infected at a particular moment, and it is too expensive for the public to get tested regularly.
"I can understand why employers have to bear responsibility and screen their workers; this is because their workers have to go out and get in touch with others for work purposes.
"But why is there a need for condominium residents to get tested? After all, the costs are high (unlike pregnancy tests which are easier to conduct and cheap).
"Besides, a one-time test doesn't have much use in curbing the virus," he said.
The management should not carry out mass testing aimlessly, and it will only cost the residents.
"I think contact tracing is more important… unless there is a confirmed case in the building, then they can trace the close contacts and ask them to do swab tests," he added.
Infectious disease expert Dr Christopher Lee said on Twitter that such measures would give people "a false sense of security".
"Besides the logistic difficulties of regular testing for all, screening occupants may just give a false sense of security."
Unrealistic move to force tenants for swab tests
Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said such measures are unrealistic.
Instead of asking the tenants to undergo swab tests, he said, the condominium management should follow standard operating procedures (SOPs), including sanitising lifts and public areas regularly as well as maintaining social distancing.
If they neglect the SOPs after getting tested, a new cluster will still emerge after a few months, the PKR Gopeng MP told Malaysiakini.
Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye
Lee pointed out an example where the staff of Top Gloves factories along Jalan Teratai, Klang were tested for Covid-19 last June before the factories resumed operations, and yet the biggest cluster in Malaysia emerged after five months.
"This is unrealistic; following the SOPs is more important," he said, adding that there were not many infection cases between condominium residents and their neighbours.
Conflicted with Health Ministry policy
The Health Ministry previously announced that Covid-19 patients who are in "Category 1 and 2" will undergo treatment and quarantine at home while being strictly monitored by health workers.
Cheong worried that if the condominium management doesn't allow residents who have tested positive to enter, these patients will not be able to quarantine at home.
Agora Society of Malaysia policy researcher Lim Chee Han, a health economics and public health specialist, agreed that such measures contradict the Health Ministry's home quarantine requirement.
He said the ministry is getting overwhelmed because of the spike of confirmed cases, resulting in a slow down of Covid-19 tests conducted and the admission of those positive into hospitals. As a result, an infected person would not be sent to a hospital immediately.
On the other hand, Lim warned that if someone uninfected goes to high-risk places such as hospitals or clinics to get tested, their risk of contracting the virus will increase.
He further explained that a medical paper issued last May found that a Covid-19 patient's symptoms will improve on the fifth day upon symptoms onset; after the 10th day, their symptoms will be gone and they will lose the ability to infect others.
For those who are asymptomatic, they are considered as recovered patients 10 days after the date of their first positive test.
According to Lim, because of the lack of resources, it may take up to seven days for the Health Ministry to take a Covid-19 patient to a hospital.
Under the ministry's guidelines, a patient can be discharged after 10 days as they are no longer infectious.
Therefore, Lim pointed out that swab tests are not necessary steps unless the patients have very serious symptoms, or do not have suitable conditions for home quarantine.
Lim said that 80 percent of Covid-19 patients are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
Malaysiakini previously reported that several condominiums' management made it mandatory for their tenants to get a Covid-19 test.
Some of the condominiums required foreign workers living in the building to submit their Covid-19 test results to the management; otherwise, they would be barred from entering the premises.
Migrant rights group Our Journey director Sumitha Shaanthinni Krishna described the ruling as discriminatory and argued that the management does not have the power to bar residents from entering. - Mkini
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