Malaysia to step up coronavirus tests with Korean antigen rapid kits

FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing protective suits wait to check in at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, during the movement control order due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sepang, Malaysia April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has approved the use of antigen rapid test kits from South Korea, as it looks to increase its coronavirus testing among high-risk groups and in places where clusters are detected, a health official said on Thursday.

Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy said last month it was considering buying 1 million rapid antigen test kits from South Korea in an effort to screen more people for the virus.

The health ministry has placed orders for the test kits and expects to get the first batch by next week, after tests showed a sensitivity level of 84.4% for the coronavirus, the director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah told reporters.

“Now that we have a test kit that is fast, portable and is cheap ... that will make the difference,” Noor Hisham told a daily news conference.

Malaysia, which until Monday had the highest number of confirmed cases in the region, has relied solely on polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, laboratory tests to confirm the presence of the novel coronavirus as serology, or antibody, rapid test kits proved unreliable.

However, a rising number of suspected cases and the need for more testing put a strain on the 43 laboratories set up to process samples, with more than 8,000 results pending reported this month, before the health ministry stopped publishing backlog data.

Health authorities have also resumed using the serology test kits as a final check at the end of a 14-day mandatory quarantine period for suspected coronavirus cases, in a bid to reduce the backlog of tests at laboratories.

Malaysia reported 110 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, raising its tally to 5,182.

The health ministry also reported one new death, taking the total number of fatalities from the outbreak to 84.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Toby Chopra, Robert Birsel