The Ministry of Health (MOH) is now focusing on tracing all students from madrasah and tahfiz schools nationwide to screen them for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
According to Malaysiakini, this is part of the ministry's efforts to trace as many positive cases in Malaysia as possible by testing groups that they deem as high risk for the virus.
"The MOH sees that after the tabligh cluster, the target now is 'madrasah tahfiz' students," Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham said in the daily COVID-19 press briefing yesterday, 14 May.
Bernama reported that the ministry's active case detection and targeted approach has, to date, identified 19,209 individuals including students, teachers, and staff from 370 madrasah and tahfiz centres across the country.
The Health D-G announced that 12,384 samples were taken from the 19,209 people, of which 635 turned out positive, 10,755 cases negative, and 994 cases are still awaiting results.
Out of the 635 who tested positive, the MOH found that a worrying 84.9%, or 539 students, did not show a single respiratory symptom
Dr Noor Hisham said this situation can possibly cause widespread infection among their family members and local community if preventive measures are not taken.
He added in a Facebook post that asymptomatic spread is quite uncommon for a virus and is not a good sign.
"A growing body of results shows that people who are asymptomatic appear to have the same viral load as symptomatic cases," he wrote.
"This means that, whether people have symptoms or not, they carry the same amount of virus inside them," he said, adding that this will inadvertently lead to more community spread.
Furthermore, the positive rate of infection among this risk group was 5.1%, higher now compared to the 4.4% recorded in tahfiz schools just one week ago.
"This increase in the positive rate is worrying as it shows that the probability of infecting others from this group is on the rise," he said.
To date, there are six COVID-19 tahfiz school clusters - four are sub-clusters of the Sri Petaling gathering, while the other two are still being investigated
"The Solok Duku tahfiz cluster is the latest to be identified," said Dr Noor Hisham, adding that the MOH has screened 107 students, teachers, and family members from the religious school in Melaka.
So far four individuals out of the 107 have tested positive, which comprised of two students and two family members of the school community. No teachers tested positive.
The five other tahfiz clusters are in Sungai Salan, Pahang (84 cases); Sungai Lui, Selangor (172); Ayer Merbau, Melaka (41); Tahfiz Lanchang, Pahang (six), and Penanti, Penang (six).
Meanwhile, Dr Noor Hisham said there are more than 1,000 private tahfiz and madrasah schools that have yet to come forward to undergo screening
According to Malay Mail, Dr Noor Hisham stressed that the ministry is worried that when the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festive season arrives and asymptomatic students return to their hometowns, they may infect the elderly and the many others who come into contact with them.
In view of this, Dr Noor Hisham said the MOH has come up with an action plan:
1. Tahfiz students who have returned home should contact the nearest district health office, health clinics, or MOH screening hospitals for immediate testing.
2. Students who have yet to return home are advised to stay put at their centres and to contact the nearest health office for samples to be taken.
3. Owners and management of these private schools should contact their nearest health office to convey the information needed for MOH to take action.
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