KUCHING, Sept 14 — The government’s latest decision of not testing asymptomatic Covid-19 close-contacts is an attempt to manipulate the figures on infection cases to ‘artificially’ suppress the numbers reported, claims Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chairman Chong Chieng Jen.

He regards such move as ‘dangerous’, especially in view of all children aged under 12 are not vaccinated and the majority of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are still awaiting vaccination.

“Even if the government has decided to treat the Covid-19 pandemic as ‘endemic’, the testing for contact tracing must go on so that people can practise more precautions,” said Chong in a statement yesterday.

According to news website ‘CodeBlue’, Health Department Sarawak director Dr Mohamed Sapian Mohamed had reportedly said that only contacts who were symptomatic would be tested, and those who were asymptomatic would be advised to go under home surveillance.

Dr Mohamed Sapian had reportedly stated this last Thursday during a webinar on ‘Living with Covid-19 Endemic’ conducted by the Society of Private Medical Practitioners Sarawak.

“We have that virtual monitoring, so we will embark on that. People have been asking: ‘Why you put us at home, but don’t test (us)?’

“The reason is that even if we tested you, you’re positive, but you’re Category 1, then we’d put you up at home so you wouldn’t infect others. You’re also safe at home.

“So why test? Because now, the more you test, the more you get,” said Dr Mohamed Sapian during the webinar, as quoted by ‘CodeBlue’.

Adding on, Chong said the state government seemed to ‘take pride’ in the low death rate amongst Covid-19 patients, and he viewed such attitude as ‘most undesirable’ in that ‘one life lost is one too many’.

“Though the death rate may be low, the current Covid-19 death cases are many times more than the Covid-19 death cases in the first year of the pandemic.”

Chong said the fight against Covid-19 was not over, especially when the children were still vulnerable and the effectiveness of vaccine protection for those who had received full vaccination would decrease over time – as fast as six months.

“While we acknowledge the need to open up the economy, certain measures must be adopted to minimise the risk of infection, illness and death. Surely, by reducing testing is not the correct way.”

Chong believed that in order to open the economy, the government must continue with mass-testing and adopt a more effective ‘test, trace and isolate’ strategy.

He observed that at current situation, the laboratory test results would only be out three to five days after the collection of samples and in this regard, he felt that the turnaround time was ‘far too slow and not acceptable’.

“Those infected would have infected hundreds of others before their positive results could be made known to them.

“This is one big failure on the part of the state government. After more than 18 months into the pandemic, the state government could still not get the facilities ready to favilitate swift test results.”

Chong said it was not a matter of ‘technology impossibility’, but more of the ‘sheer lack of commitment and incompetency on the part of the state government’.

Moreover, Chong said the other protocol that needed improvement was the requirement to collect ‘quarantine wristbands’ for the Covid-19 close-contacts.

“They are made to queue at the wristband-collection centres for hours before being given the wristbands. This would unnecessarily expose them to infections – bearing in mind that all those waiting and queuing there may not be infected, but are high risks.”

Thus, Chong said the government should utilise MySejahtera mobile application as the ‘virtual quarantine wristband’, and barring those supposedly serving home quarantine from all outlets.

He also said the strategies for opening up the economy and treating the pandemic as endemic would include an effective ‘test, trace and isolate’ strategy, roll-out of the third booster vaccine shots for adults, and going for high vaccination rate for teenagers.

“The sooner the state government can get their acts together, the faster we can open up our economy. One thing for sure, manipulation and suppression of the figures are not the correct ways to open up the economy,” stressed Chong. — Borneo Post