KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 9 — Malaysia has a bigger challenge with Covid-19 this time around due to the viciousness of the virus mutation, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said today.

The Health director-general said the new strain of the virus responsible for the clusters in Kedah and Sabah breeds and spreads faster.

“Yes, Malaysia is in the third wave of Covid-19 infections and it is more challenging because the D614G virus mutation is found in Kedah and Sabah clusters and it is highly infectious,” he said during a press conference broadcasted live on the ministry’s Facebook page.

However, he gave his assurance that the Health Ministry is well prepared for this challenge.

The D614G virus mutation was first detected in Malaysia in August by the Malaysian Institute for Medical Research, during culture and isolation tests on three samples from the Sivagangga cluster in Kedah and the Ulu Tiram cluster in Johor.

Dr Noor Hisham also explained that many cases were detected from the Kedah and Sabah prison, which contributed largely to the third wave infections.

“As for cases outside of the prisons, it is not as high — such as the Ops Benteng Lahad Datu and Tembok clusters.

“So it is actually a controlled situation in the prison and with the administrative movement control order imposed, it will not spread and is isolated from the community,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said when the country first started combating Covid-19, the Health Ministry had only 23 labs with a testing capacity of 1,000 per day.

“Now we have 60 labs with a maximum testing capacity of 41,000 cases. Currently we are only using 51 per cent of the existing capacity,” he said, signifying the improvement in government facilities and preparedness to fight the third wave.

He also added that the ministry has sufficient medical facilities including heightened treatment capacity, hospital beds, medical equipments such as ventilators, intensive care units, personal protective equipment sets and other consumables used by medical officers.

When asked if cases were rising among the community, Dr Noor Hisham said it may seem so but in reality, it takes time to find out by way of assigning test results to specific clusters.

“Many cases are related to contact tracing and new cases in current clusters.

“However, since they are still under investigation, we have to classify these temporarily under community tracing,” he explained.

Dr Noor Hisham said clusters are announced only when data can be verified.

“But we have a very short period of time, from 12 noon to 6pm to assign them to clusters.

“That is a short time to verify data and assign clusters, so those that we are not able to assign we will lump these as the community tracing until we can verify the epidemiology of the cases,” he said.

He added that many of these clusters are found in areas that are under TEMCO and a lot of screening is done on targeted population, locals, foreigners and so on.

“But we do know that we have cases in pockets of the community, but predominantly the cases exist in clusters,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham also said the Health Ministry is now following a new protocol recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in discharging patients.

“Every day brings new lessons and knowledge to the Health Ministry.

“Initially when we started, before we discharge a patient, we will do a test, and we do a test twice — 22 hours apart, two negatives — then only we discharge.

“But we have adopted a new protocol by the WHO in which Covid-19 cases are discharged from the hospital after 14 days as there is new scientific data and proof to support that they are no longer infectious after the 10th day,” he said.

But the Health Ministry prefers to keep the patients warded an additional four days as a precaution.

This means that patients are kept hospitalised for 14 days. And if they show no more symptoms, they will be discharged without further testing, Dr Noor Hisham said.

“Even if we do testing, there will be virus shading, and sometimes it’s positive.

“In our past experience, some of our patients have been kept longer than a month, for example because they are still rRT-PCR (real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) positive, we kept them in the hospital.

“So according to this protocol, although rRT-PCT is positive it is not infective, so that is why we discharge patients on the 14th day,” he said.