Malaysia mulls buying coronavirus test kits from South Korea as tally rises

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia is considering buying up to 1 million coronavirus test kits from South Korea as it steps up efforts to screen more people for the virus, the government said on Friday.

The number of infections in Malaysia has doubled in a week to 2,161, the highest total in Southeast Asia. Many are linked to a religious gathering at a mosque that was attended by 16,000 people.

Malaysia is testing rapid antigen test kits from South Korea that show if someone has COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Health Ministry Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah said.

“If the accuracy is high, we may place 1 million order,” Noor Hisham said at a news conference. “Hopefully the decision will be reached tonight.”

Rapid test kits could help determine if somebody has the virus faster than diagnostic tests that draw on a nasal swab to confirm active infection.

Noor Hisham said Malaysia’s diagnostic testing capacity has been increased to 7,100 cases per day. Earlier this week, he said the capacity would be increased to 16,500 by the first week of April as it braces for the “worst scenario”.

Malaysia has done a total of 30,948 tests as of noon on Friday, ministry data showed.

More than 1,000 cases of confirmed infections in Malaysia are linked to the mosque gathering. The ministry has said it has seen five generation of infections from the event participants.

Malaysia currently has in place travel and movement curbs to contain the spread of the virus.

Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced a stimulus package worth 250 billion ringgit ($58 billion) to help cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic.

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