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.
Educating and enforcement of the new norms and SOP (standard operating procedures) are more urgently needed as a long-term solution.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) believes that labs in the country may not be able to cope with the high volume of samples taken from 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 MCO (Movement Control Order).
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.
Efforts must be made to look into the work environment and living conditions of foreign workers, in particular, those working at factories and at construction sites.
These sectors must adapt quickly to the new norm and ensure social distancing and personal hygiene is observed at all times at the workplace.
The majority of foreign workers in the country are known to stay in dormitories, construction site cabins, shared houses or in shop lot rooms. We are concerned that social distancing may not be observed or may be a challenge to observe due to large numbers of workers sharing accomodation. Social distancing must also be observed on company transportation these workers take to work.
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 SOP.
Efforts should also be made to communicate the new norm and SOPs in the language of these foreign workers to ensure they fully understand and fully adhere to the new norm practices.
Recent reports of illegal or undocumented foreign workers in the country are also a major concern. We urge the authorities to work closely with the relevant NGOs (non-government organisations) in helping to reach them as some may fear the authorities and flee to other locations; making contact tracing more difficult if there are cases of Covid-19 infections.
While this group of workers may be staying illegally in the country, it must be remembered that they too have a universal right to health care.
Recently, it was reported that 811 of the Covid-19 cases in the country are foreigners. We must also learn from Singapore where 560 of the 573 cases reported yesterday were foreign workers staying in dormitories.
Dr N. Ganabaskaran is president of the Malaysian Medical Association.
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