Is Penang Limiting Foreign Worker Covid-19 Testing? MMA

By Kanmani Batumalai |

The Penang state health department says in response that it, Socso, and Penang-based private medical practitioners have agreed for Covid-19 screenings to be conducted in stages as a temporary measure.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 23 — The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has raised complaints about authorities allegedly limiting the number of Covid-19 screenings for foreign workers in Penang to 500 daily.

The country’s largest doctors’ association, in a letter to the Penang state health department, said it was informed by general practitioners that “officers” from the Private Medical Practice Control Section (CKAPS) under the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Medical Practice Division were concerned about placing positive Covid-19 cases if the positivity rate from the migrant worker screenings in Penang was 10 per cent, or 50 infections out of 500 tested a day.

“MMA is deeply concerned if the allegation is true as it defeats the purpose of fast mass screening to contain the disease and to break the transmission chain as done by many countries successfully,” MMA stated in its December 12 letter to Penang state health director Dr Asmayani Khalib, as sighted by CodeBlue.

Dr Asmayani said in response that the Penang state health department (JKNPP), Socso headquarters (medical division), and Penang-based private medical practitioners held a virtual meeting on December 12, where all parties agreed for Covid-19 screenings to be conducted in stages.

“This is only temporary. It will be reviewed from time to time,” Dr Asmayani told CodeBlue yesterday.

“For details on the number of screenings up to now, please follow up with Socso. JKNPP will try as best as possible to overcome any obstacle. At present, this is the only information I can give you.”

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah similarly referred CodeBlue to Socso.

Socso told CodeBlue that MOH is responsible to answer the question, when asked if there was any form of limitation imposed on Covid-19 screenings for migrant workers in Penang.

“The question should go to MOH,” Socso’s corporate communications unit told CodeBlue.

Socso’s corporate communications also mentioned that official statistics on the Covid-19 positivity rate among foreign workers in Malaysia can only be obtained from MOH.

As of December 22, Penang has recorded a total of 3,001 Covid-19 cases, including 585 cases in the past two weeks from December 9 to December 22. The daily average cases in the northern state were 42.57 from December 9 to December 15, dipping slightly the following week to 41 cases.

Any delay in testing people for Covid-19 means that those unknowingly infected, especially if they do not have symptoms, may inadvertently transmit the virus to others, including people at higher risk of developing severe disease from coronavirus.

Earlier, MMA stated that employers were allowed to conduct the mandatory Covid-19 screening of foreign workers by fixing appointments with clinics registered under the Social Security Organisation’s (Socso) Prihatin Screening Programme (PSP).

It is to be noted that a total of 482 clinics have been registered with the Covid-19 RTK-AG (antigen) screening programme under Socso in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Pulau Pinang, Labuan, and Sabah.

The first phase of the mandatory screening programme for 1.7 million documented migrant workers nationwide — which started December 1 — is expected to involve 888,342 foreign workers in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Sabah, and Labuan.

Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan recently announced that all employers must ensure that their migrant workers undergo mandatory Covid-19 tests starting from January 1. Socso-registered foreign workers can carry out the screenings in clinics listed under Socso, whereas employers will bear the cost of screening for other foreign workers.

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