Impossible to jab 100% retail staff, regular swab tests costly

Industry players have suggested to the govt that all sectors across retail should reopen if 70% staff are vaccinated and only vaccinated customers are allowed to shop


RETAILERS said it is impossible for 100% of retail staff to be vaccinated, citing health reasons and eligibility for vaccination among the reasons, and urged the government to focus on a target of 70% for the sector to fully reopen.

Malaysia Shopping Malls Association president Tan Sri Teo Chiang Kok said firstly, there will be those who are not eligible to be vaccinated and also those with premedical conditions that are not advised to be vaccinated.

“Thus, we are proposing that based on the herd immunity criteria which many studies determine to be between 60% and 80%, we adopt the middle-ground of 70% and that businesses can open as long as 70% of their on duty staff are vaccinated.

“This would be practical and in accordance with science to operate with. Yes, we are confident our member malls will support this as it is our common objective to re-open the other retail outlets as soon as possible,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

He said some vaccine-hesitant individuals may have good medical and even religious reasons for not getting the jab.

“However, in order to keep the public at large safe, it is proposed that these individuals be required, at their own cost, to do Covid-19 swab tests every week in order to report for work.

“Employers will need to take any necessary action for their employees if vaccination is made mandatory for retail to reopen. After all, if the majority is vaccinated and the anti-vaxxers remain the minority, they will need to realise why vaccinations are necessary for lives and livelihoods to recover,” he added.

Teo said Retail Industry Vaccination (Rivac) centres have just opened this week in shopping malls with an average of 700-800 persons being vaccinated per day.

“The Rivacs’ capacity is generally higher and hopefully the MySejahtera process can be ramped up to notify as early as possible to ensure full attendance and to provide a standby list to the Rivac earlier too.”

According to the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi, a total of 29,105 industry workers have been vaccinated so far.

Retail players are generally positive towards the vaccination drive, but they agree that weekly swab tests are costly.

Bumiputera Retailers Organisation president Datuk Wira Ameer Ali Mydin said hypermarket chain Mydin Mohamed Holding Bhd for example has 10,000 staff and it would cost him RM3.6 million per month as the company would have to conduct 40,000 tests monthly.

“The cost for the Antigen Rapid Test Kit is around RM90, meaning that it will cost us RM3.6 million a month. I better close my shops,” he told TMR.

Recently, the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives had submitted proposed enhanced standard operating procedures to the government to help speed up the opening of the micro, small and medium enterprise sector, particularly the first to close, last to open businesses.

Among the mandatory procedures proposed include business owners and workers must complete two doses of Covid-19 vaccination jabs; business owners and workers must go for weekly Covid-19 swab test; and immediate closure of a premise, for sanitisation purposes, should there be any detected Covid-19 cases.

On closure of premise, Ameer, who is also Malaysia Retail Association VP, said industry players have suggested to the government that all sectors across retail should reopen if 70% staff are vaccinated and only vaccinated customers are allowed to shop.

“We are coming up with an internal policy to allow only vaccinated staff to come to work (unless there is a health reason for them not to get their vaccine). Currently, around 70% of retail workers have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine,” he added.

Echoing similar sentiment, AEON Co (M) Bhd MD and CEO Shafie Shamsuddin said AEON is in the middle of getting all of its employees and ecosystems to be fully vaccinated.

“Being in the retail business, we are following the government’s directive to ensure all of our employees get their vaccinations. We acknowledge that there is a small group of AEON employees who do not want to receive the Covid-19 vaccinations.

“We are engaging these employees through conversations, counselling, guidance, as well as dialogue sessions to address their concerns,” he told TMR.

Out of more than 10,000 AEON’s employees currently, 36% have received their first dose of vaccine and from that, 13% have been fully vaccinated.

He said an important milestone for the group to share is that AEON Taman Maluri Shopping Centre Kuala Lumpur is the first fully vaccinated shopping centre when it completed the vaccination exercise on July 28, 2021.

Shafie also said that it is too taxing for businesses to absorb the cost of swab tests if required. AEON for example would find it very challenging to spend RM4 million monthly just on cost of the swab tests.

“With the acceleration of the vaccination programme, we are confident that it will bring the pandemic under control so that livelihoods can revive and businesses will be able to resume.”