High Omicron cases costing money, productivity for businesses

Most firms are unable to find replacement for staff on sick leave or in quarantine

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE high number of Omicron infections in the country is not only costing businesses financially, but also in terms of productivity.

Malaysian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Daniel Bernbeck said most enterprises are unable to replace a large number of staff on sick leave or in quarantine at the same time as more people are tested positive for Omicron.

“With the number of infections rising dramatically day by day, Omicron, despite producing only mild symptoms, does have huge negative effects on the economy as well as on society.

“Not only those being infected, but also those who are considered ‘close contacts’ are forced to quarantine. MySejahtera being largely unable to adjust to the individual cases, this produces enormous losses in productivity through absenteeism,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

“Currently, Malaysian regulations consider even those that are ‘close contacts’ and are not infected as cases of sick leave, and the employers are not allowed to make salary deductions,” he added.

Malaysia’s total Covid-19 cases breached the three million mark as daily infections rise further to 22,802 on Feb 12.

Bernbeck said many of the council’s members are inquiring if at least those that are classified as “close contacts” and unable to work remotely would be released from being paid a full salary.

“Otherwise, the financial burden of this safety measure is put on the employers alone. We’d also recommend changing the requirement for close contact cases to stay at home for only five days and then be allowed to go to work physically provided that they are getting tested every day until their status changes.

“Besides that, we do hope that the Ministry of Health continues its excellent track record of pushing for more vaccinations and boosters throughout the population to protect public healthcare — allowing it to reopen the borders for fully vaccinated foreign visitors as soon as possible and to also ‘boost’ the economic recovery that this country needs,” he added.

Meanwhile, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Association central chairman Datuk William Ng said many of its members are reporting incidences of infections among their employees.

“With the number of cases going up, we strongly recommend that businesses adopt a work-from-home approach where possible or on rotation basis if that’s better suited to their operational needs.

“Additionally, SMEs should enforce physical distancing and all other standard operating procedures (SOPs) strictly to prevent further escalation including another lockdown that none of us could afford,” he told TMR.

He opined that Malaysia should prepare towards an endemic phase as hospitalisation rates remain low despite the Omicron wave.

“Once an endemic is declared, we must learn to live with the virus. This would mean continued physical distancing and wearing of mask if we are feeling unwell. However, the existing SOPs, including reporting of infection, quarantine requirements and any further lockdowns need to be adjusted or removed.

“This is crucial so that our economy can continue to recover and Malaysians can return to some semblance of normalcy when the danger posed by Covid-19 is the equivalent of the common flu,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) is of the view that industries already have all their SOPs in place to detect and manage cases, especially with the requirement for those in the manufacturing sector to conduct the mandatory bi-weekly testing.

“Employees in the industry are also more protected against the virus now compared to two years ago since the majority of them have already completed their two vaccination doses and many are underway to completing their booster jabs as well.

“While this may not prevent infections at the workplace given the high infectivity rate of the Omicron virus, but in tandem with the SOPs implementations and the ‘Test, Report, Isolate, Inform and Seek’, the impact on business operations would be minimised,” FMM president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai told TMR.

FMM also calls on the government not to implement a full lockdown in the event of higher spikes in cases in the days and weeks to come, and the government should also avoid instituting any Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) on an entire area or district or state.

“It is unfair to declare an entire area or district or state under EMCO and impose strict operation conditions on all businesses especially those that have a clean record and have maintained the highest levels of SOPs and workplace preventive measures.

“Only affected companies where high cases of Covid-19 cases are detected should be instructed to either close or partially close for them to conduct the necessary contact tracing, testing and treatment of the employees including cleaning and sanitisation,” he said.