Flip-flops in govt policies on worker screening leave many confused and frustrated, says MMA

KUALA LUMPUR (May 11): The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) says there have been flip-flops in government policies with no clear-cut guidelines given for workforce testing before businesses resumed operations under the conditional movement control order (CMCO) period.

This uncertainty, it said, had left business owners, employees and even doctors (GPs) in the country confused and frustrated.

According to the MMA, employers had been calling clinics to arrange for screenings since the announcement of the usage of rapid test kits (RTKs) for screening employees.

However, it pointed out that the Social Security Organisation (Socso), with whom the MMA had been working closely for many years, had said it was discontinuing the use of RTKs for mandatory screening of workers for Covid-19.

"We received a call from the MoH (Ministry of Health) informing us some three weeks ago that Socso would be launching RTK antibody tests for our workers with the participation of our GPs. Even four days ago, during the meeting with Socso's top management, we were told that the above screening of workers would be initiated for workers through GP clinics on their HSP (Health Screening Programme) panel.

"Now, we have been informed that under Socso's screening programme, only the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method of screening will be used," it said.

The public must be aware that the test results using this method typically take 24 hours to obtain, it said. And depending on the volume of test samples and other logistics issues, it may take longer.

"It must [also] be noted that the RT-PCR test results received after three days will not have any clinical value. Results must be received within 48 to 72 hours after testing or the results may not reflect the current health status of the person tested. Currently, the testing capacity nationwide of the private sector is around 9,000 per day. It must also be noted that the laboratories testing these samples also test non-Covid-19 cases.

"Aside from this, as it has now been established by the MoH that RT-PCR remains the 'gold standard' for Covid-19 detection, the MoH must also be clear on the purpose of RTK antibody tests (still used in some applications) to clear up any doubt or confusion. What will RTKs be used for now?" it posed the question to the ministry.

As such, the MMA said it had advised GPs not to perform RTK antibody tests without clear guidelines on the usage of antibody RTKs, infection prevention and control protocols, interpretation guidelines and quarantine criteria that should be released by the MoH.

GPs could not conduct the screening without the necessary guidelines, it said, because proper guidelines are a safety requirement or even GPs and their staff can be at risk of infection.

Adding further to the confusion, the MMA said there had been a shift in the stance of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) in terms of the need to screen all workers before companies may resume business operations.

"Stakeholders are confused now as to why screenings were needed at first and no longer needed now; [they are] feeling unsafe knowing that the threat of Covid-19 is still very much around," it said.

Therefore, the MMA called on the government to provide clarity and proper guidelines for the smooth implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs), saying many were in the dark about steps to be taken.

"We believe this confusion concerning the testing of workers would not have happened if the announcement to test workers was made after receiving guidelines from the MoH. Healthcare is highly regulated. Guidelines must be in place before the announcement of such an extensive programme," it added.

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