Miti: Factory clusters contributed below 10pc of Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases from June 1 to June 23, only from 0.15pc of operating firms

Healthcare workers collect swab samples to test for Covid-19 at the Selcare Clinic in Shah Alam October 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Healthcare workers collect swab samples to test for Covid-19 at the Selcare Clinic in Shah Alam October 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 — Covid-19 clusters linked to factories are not the biggest contributor of new cases in the country during the June 1 to June 23 period or over three weeks of the total lockdown phase, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry’s (Miti) latest statistics suggest.

Factories in Malaysia had come under criticism and public demand for them to be shut down during the total lockdown period due to the multiple Covid-19 clusters linked to them, but Miti has suggested that the parameters for when a Covid-19 cluster would be declared is unclear and would need improvements to avoid confusion.

In a document, Miti noted that 502 Covid-19 clusters with 138,649 Covid-19 cases were recorded in Malaysia from June 1 to June 23, with 328 of these being workplace clusters.

Out of the 328 workplace clusters during this period, 174 were manufacturing clusters with 12,872 Covid-19 cases with 64.1 per cent being non-citizens, which if further broken down would be 120 clusters involving workplace premises with 7,739 cases and 54 clusters involving workers hostels with 5,133 cases.

In analysing these figures for June 1 to June 23, Miti zeroed in on the 174 manufacturing clusters out of the 502 Covid-19 clusters recorded in Malaysia during that period.

“These manufacturing clusters are only 0.15 per cent of 117,236 companies registered in CIMS 3.0,” Miti said, referring to companies that are allowed to operate during the total lockdown or phase one of the national recovery plan.

“The total overall positive cases are 138,649 cases and manufacturing clusters account for 12,872 cases, which is only 9.3 per cent of the overall cases in the above period,” the ministry added.

In further illustrating its point, Miti noted that June 22 itself saw 4,743 new Covid-19 cases recorded in Malaysia, with 21 new clusters including 13 workplace clusters (with 352 cases), and with five of the 13 workplace clusters being manufacturing clusters with 219 cases. The 219 cases from the five manufacturing clusters on June 22 contributed only 4.6 per cent to June 22’s tally of new cases.

As for June 23, there were 5,244 new cases in Malaysia with 25 new clusters announced, including 15 workplace clusters with 456 cases, while six of the 15 workplace clusters are manufacturing clusters that only contributed 130 or 2.5 per cent of the Covid-19 cases recorded nationwide that day, Miti said.

Miti shared its observations that there are currently no detailed parameters before a Covid-19 cluster is declared, pointing out that district health departments’ (PKD) definition of clusters is based on risk assessments by PKD officers on the field which results in different assessment outcomes for the same scenarios.

Miti also said the unclear definition of categorisation for clusters gives an inaccurate picture and confuses employers, workers and the public.

Miti also appeared to suggest that Covid-19 cases were being detected due to companies taking proactive actions by increasing the frequency of Covid-19 screening and carrying out the Identify, Isolate and Control approach at the employers’ own cost, even though the source of Covid-19 infections are from the movement of workers outside working hours or from surrounding areas.

“Without the companies’ initiative, cases would not be recorded and would remain in the community without being realised as there is no mass testing at the community level,” Miti said.

Miti also noted that there have been instances of high transmission of Covid-19 infections in workers’ hostels even though the companies are not operating.

Miti highlighted that infections originating from workers’ movement outside of working hours and which subsequently spread to workers’ hostels had been classified as workplace clusters, but said the appropriate clusters that should be classified as workplace clusters is when Covid-19 infections are due to breach of standard operating procedures by employers.

Miti then provided a list of six suggestions for improvement, including adding more details in defining workplace clusters by showing the area of infection spread such as production area, housing area or outside of premises.

Miti said the government should also refine its strategy by increasing Covid-19 screenings in the community and immediately isolate them if the patient zero for Covid-19 cases in manufacturing companies originates from the community.

Miti also said the MySejahtera application should be upgraded to automatically carry out tracing by classifying the status of close contact and workers at risk based on the time, place and distance with patients when they met.

Miti added that the government should enhance enforcement at workers’ hostel areas to ensure compliance with guidelines for their housing, and that the national Covid-19 immunisation programme should be carried out with a higher rate of vaccinations.

Miti concluded by proposing that emphasis be placed on companies’ responsibilities to increase proactive actions by carrying out Covid-19 tests more frequently under the Identify, Isolate and Control approach.

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