Targeted tests on migrant workers more viable as businesses restart

Tenaganita suggests authorities test those in industries that cannot practice adequate distancing first as backlog of Covid-19 tests likely to take months to clear


AS BUSINESSES and industries attempt to restart after two months of inactivity, the government’s condition that all foreign workers pass the Covid-19 test has presented a brick wall to them.

The sheer number of foreign workers and the shortage of testing kits, as well as opposition to the idea that the workers’ social security organisation pays for tests, have frustrated companies’ attempts at complying with the order.

Industries are now suggesting a quick shortcut to mass testing, while still able to safeguard health.

Tenaganita suggests that these workers be allowed to come back to work while the health authorities test those in industries that cannot practice adequate distancing first as they get through the backlog of Covid-19 tests, which is likely to take months.

ED Glorene A Das said the government doesn’t need to test all migrant workers at once, but only focus on those showing symptoms or most at risk.

The government should also focus on industries where workers are not able to practice social distancing nor take other necessary precautions.

She said other than testing, the government must also look at foreign workers as a community at risk of Covid-19, including unregistered workers.

“What is important is not to use the testing as a way to harass the communities at the margin, and those already in a vulnerable situation, by arresting and detaining them.

“Stop the arrest and detention of the people, the fear of this action will lead those affected to run away from coming forward for testing and screening,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran said the authorities should team up with non-governmental organisations to conduct testing on undocumented migrant workers who do not want to come forward.

“A bigger concern is the living conditions of migrant workers. The majority of foreign workers in the country typically share accommodation in cramped dormitories, construction site cabins, apartments, shop lot rooms or terrace houses.

“Employers must take the responsibility to ensure their workers adjust to the new norm and observe social distancing and proper personal hygiene at all times,” he told TMR.

Dr Ganabaskaran said workers should be briefed thoroughly on the safety measures to ensure full compliance and employers must be held accountable for any non-compliance by their workers.

Earlier this month, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had warned employers to ensure their workers are tested for Covid-19 to prevent a spike in new cases from the group, similar to what Singapore is currently facing.

There are approximately 2.2 million documented foreign workers in Malaysia, while reports have stated that the total number of illegal workers in the country could reach up to 3.3 million.

When Singapore was first hit by the virus in January, the country was able control the outbreak by taking early precautions and practicing contact tracing regime to identify individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.

However, by mid-April, Singapore saw a spike in the number of new cases due to the living conditions of the foreign workers in the country who often live in dormitories packed with 10 to 20 individuals in a single dorm.

Several areas known to be the “hotspots” for migrant workers such as Selayang, Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion have been placed under Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO).

Petaling Jaya Old Town was also recently put under EMCO. The Pasar Besar Jalan Othman is a popular spot for locals to do their groceries and has a significant number of foreign workers.