Covid-19 testing at home

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The self-test kits can also be deployed for weekly workplace screening so that people may return to work and get the economy up and running.

Covid-19 self-test kits, which will soon hit the shelves after being allowed to be imported and sold in Malaysia, could become a game-changer to help Malaysians live with the virus, say health experts.

With these self-test devices, experts said active case detection could easily be done from the comfort of one’s own home.

The kits can also be deployed for weekly workplace screening so that people may return to work and get the economy up and running.

Weekly RTK-Ag test was highlighted in the Health Emergency Action Plan (HEAP) – Roadmap to Recovery from Covid-19 – which contained suggestions prepared by four health experts and endorsed by 20 associations and 18 professionals.

They stated that reliable, cheap, saliva-based RTK-Ag tests must be made available for use in workplaces to enable weekly testing to reduce workplace spread.

It also said that clear guidelines should be made and communicated for frequency of testing, what to do with positive tests, and mechanisms for reporting.

Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS, who is one of the authors of HEAP, said testing employees once a week, or even better, twice weekly, would help reduce workplace spread of Covid-19 and ensure active case detection was always ongoing at the workplace, which has been the source of many outbreaks.

“However, it has to be decided whether they should do the test at home before going to the office or at the workplace. If done at work, then businesses must first ensure that testing can be carried out safely,” he said.

He also said the government should make the kits cheaper to encourage employers to conduct frequent testing on their staff.

“The government should look into providing some sort of subsidy for those purchasing the kits. In the United Kingdom, for example, the self-test kits are provided for free by the government,” he said.

Dr Amar, however, did not agree that these self-test kits be a gateway to Malaysia possibly being able to hold mass events such as concerts in the near future.

“I don’t agree that these kits should be used to test people for the purpose of attending events that are not essential.

“Some people say let’s use this for tourism, but I say let’s not do this yet. Let’s get the economy and business up, prioritise essential activities first,” he said.

Former Health deputy director-general Prof Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said early diagnosis must be made readily accessible as it is particularly important to quickly detect asymptomatic cases.

“Therefore, it should be available in all public clinics and all general practitioner (GP) clinics, preferably subsidised because we are in a crisis,” said Dr Lokman Hakim, who is International Medical University pro-vice chancellor.

As for the mechanism to report one’s status after doing the self-test, he said the public must be educated and facilitated to notify the nearest health office by whatever means.

“Patients should also notify all their close contacts as well as the authorities using the same mechanism.

“If we can register for the vaccine, why can’t we register our Covid-19 positive status and also register our close contacts? Use the same platform or a more efficient platform,” he suggested.

Virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar of Universiti Malaya said it would be useful if companies could claim tax rebate for using these self-test kits for workplace screening.

He said the test kit companies could also provide a barcode that links users to a platform to report their results.

“There should be a mechanism, for example, by which the user can scan the QR code with the results and upload it through MySejahtera so that it can be recorded and for further action to be taken by the authorities.

“The test provider should also list down clear instructions on what to do next if one is negative and also if one is positive,” he said.

On whether self-test kits could be a good replacement for temperature checks, which currently are a prerequisite for entering public places, Prof Sazaly said that taking temperature had been a futile exercise.

“The temperature gauge is not calibrated and most asymptomatics have no fever,” he said.

On July 14, the Medical Device Authority said its board members had agreed to issue conditional approval for the import and distribution of Covid-19 self-test kits.

So far, two self-test kits have been approved for usage, while 15 more are undergoing laboratory tests.

The two approved tests are the Salixium Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Rapid Test (Saliva/Nasal Swab Samples) by Reszon Diagnostics International Sdn Bhd, Malaysia, and the Gmate Covid-19 Ag Saliva for Home Use by Philosys Co Ltd, South Korea.

Meanwhile, it has been reported there has been overwhelming demand for Covid-19 home self-test kits, say retail pharmacies.

The response from online and offline sales has been great, said BIG Pharmacy marketing manager Liew Chui Ying.

“Customers have walked in to ask about them and also there are enquiries via online platforms or our official WhatsApp number. The sales are overwhelming, and we believe it will continue to grow further,” she said.

Liew said new stocks arrived at their warehouse yesterday.

These kits, she said, will be available for purchase at selected BIG Pharmacy stores from today, subject to availability.

Art Chen/The Star

Due to limited supply, she said some stores may not be getting sufficient stock based on pre-orders. As such, priority will be given to pre-orders.

“Customers can walk in for pre-order registration or order online on our official web store,” said Liew.

At the moment, BIG Pharmacy is only carrying the Gmate Saliva Antigen Kits at a cost of RM39.90 each but its team will continue to explore other brands and suppliers.

“This test kit is offering a convenience for anyone who wishes to test if they are infected.

“They can do it safely at their home without going out to expose themselves or spread the virus since the accuracy is high at 96% based on 91% sensitivity and 100% specificity,” she said.

Caring Pharmacy Retail Management Sdn Bhd head of procurement, health, beauty and own brands category Foo Fung Jiun also said the demand for the Covid-19 self-test kits has been “overwhelming”.

“Most of our stores will have the test kits by Wednesday,” he said.

Foo noted that there are currently two self-test kit brands approved by the Medical Device Authority.

“The Gmate Saliva Antigen Kits (Home Use) is one of them. For the other brand, we are still in the midst of discussion with the supplier,” he said.

The Gmate Saliva Antigen Kits is selling at Caring for RM39.90 each and RM219.60 for six.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Amrahi Buang said: “The self-test kits are going to be a game-changer in the new normal.

“It can be widely used for mass events to ensure the status of the participants. It will also be relevant for manufacturers, factories, and shop outlets if they are required to screen their employees periodically,” he said.

Amrahi said it will also be useful for testing in schools and universities.