Ensure foreign workers’ welfare rather than testing them en masse, doctors tell Putrajaya

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N. Ganabaskaran speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur February 21, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N. Ganabaskaran speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur February 21, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 — The testing of all foreign workers may not be a practical approach for now, and may turn into a logistical nightmare as businesses begin to resume operations, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) said today.

In a statement, MMA president Dr N. Ganabaskaran stressed that efforts must be made to look into the work environment and living conditions of foreign workers, particularly those working at factories and at construction sites.

He also said he believes that labs in the country may not be able to cope with the high volume of samples taken from foreign workers, to test for Covid-19, within a short time frame.

“It may also not be affordable for many businesses; many of which have suffered losses due to the temporary halt in operations under the movement control order (MCO). We feel the targeted approach in testing, as adopted by MOH for hotspots, could perhaps be taken for now.

“It must also be noted that a person can still be at risk of infection after testing if they do not observe proper preventive measures.

“The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) is more deeply concerned that foreign workers in the country can be at high risk of getting infected with Covid-19 due to their work environment and living conditions,” he said.

Dr Ganabaskaran added that educating and enforcing the new norms and regulations are more urgently needed, as a long-term solution.

He also urged the said sectors to quickly adapt quickly to the new norms, and ensure social distancing and personal hygiene are observed at all times at workplaces.

He said that the majority of foreign workers in the country are known to stay in dormitories, construction site cabins, shared houses or in shop lot rooms, and as such, MMA is concerned that social distancing may not be observed, or could pose a challenge to observe, due to large numbers of workers sharing accommodations.

Dr Ganabaskaran called for social distancing to also be observed on company transportations catered for the said workers.

“We urge the relevant ministries to prioritise monitoring of sectors that rely on foreign labour as businesses are now starting to resume operations.

“There may also be a need for random checks to be done from time to time to ensure full compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs),” he said, adding that efforts should also be made to communicate the new norm and SOPs in languages comprehensible to the foreign workers, to ensure understanding.

Dr Ganabaskaran also highlighted recent reports on undocumented foreign workers in the country, lamenting it that the issue is also major concern, and urged authorities to work closely with relevant NGOs in helping to reach out to them.

He said this is crucial, as some may fear the authorities and flee to other locations, thus making contact tracing more difficult should there be Covid-19 infection cases.

“While this group of workers may be staying illegally in the country, it must be remembered that they too have a universal right to healthcare,” he added.

More than 500 foreign workers in the Pudu wet market and surrounding areas in Kuala Lumpur were screened for Covid-19 today, as the area turned busy after businesses were allowed to open under the conditional movement control order (CMCO).

Since 8am, authorities including personnel from the Ministry of Health, police and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall officers started rounding up foreign workers, most of them working and living in the market and businesses around Jalan Pasar Baharu and Jalan Yew.

Earlier today, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that employers must ensure their migrant workers are tested for Covid-19, to prevent Malaysia from experiencing a spike in cases similar to Singapore.

Ismail urged employers to understand the objective of the new ruling and pointed out that there were recent spikes in Covid-19 cases and the emergence of a new cluster linked to migrant workers.

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