Dr Noor Hisham

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has upgraded 12 public hospitals and public health laboratories throughout the country since Jan 30 with the capacity to carry out real time RT-PCR 2019-nCoV tests to detect the novel coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV).

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said they were the National Public Health Laboratory (MKAK) in Sungai Buloh, MKA Ipoh, MKA Kota Kinabalu, MKA Kota Bharu and MKA Johor Bahru.

“This capacity has also been extended to the private laboratory networks through training provided by MKAK Sungai Buloh on Feb 6,” he said in a statement here yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham said in the beginning, the virology unit of the Infectious Disease Research Centre, Institute of Medical Research was the only laboratory directly involved with conducting diagnostic tests to detect the 2019-nCoV in Malaysia.

On Jan 3, the laboratory had made preparations to face the possibility of the spread of 2019-nCoV where a reagent to detect coronavirus using the conventional RT-PCR method was prepared.

Dr Noor Hisham

“However, on Jan 11, scientists from China released information on the genetics of 2019-nCoV. This enabled officials from the IMF’s virology unit to come up with the reagent sequence known as ‘primers and probes specific for 2019-nCoV’ on the same day.

“Several days later, the World Health Organisation also released the protocol for real time RT-PCR 2019-nCoV and this protocol is almost similar to that used by the IMR,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said the reagent to identify the 2019-nCoV arrived at IMR’s laboratory on Jan 21, and at the same time the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre shared a virus from the same family as deactivated 2019-nCoV to be used as a positive control.

On Jan 22, officials from the IMR successfully conducted optimisation tests for real time RT-PCR 2019-nCoV and this reagent was supplied to the MKAK Sungai Buloh on Jan 24 to test contact samples in Johor which would enable detection of the first positive case among close contacts.

“On Jan 25, the IMR laboratory also detected the first positive case among Patients-Under-Investigation (PUI),” he said. 

Dr Noor Hisham said each day (including public holidays), as early as 7am, the staff on call would be ready to receive samples from the hospitals and would continue conducting the tests so that the results could be released within 24 hours.

“However, most of the tests results are ready earlier than 24 hours,” he said.

Dr Hisham said only staff who have undergone the competency test and training on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were allowed to conduct the tests.

He said the staff would receive the samples and record it in the log book.

He added that the sample would then be taken to the Biosafety Laboratory on Level 2 where the staff would put it through the real time RT-PCR 2019-nCoV. –Bernama