Hotbed of disease in the city

Broken walls and an unsecured metal bar pose a danger to residents while the filthy compound exposes them to the risk of disease.

BAHADUR Ahmad lives in a 800sq ft flat in Malayan Mansion flats in Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur. The Bangladeshi national shares the unit with 15 other men from his home country.

Bahadur and four others work at a construction site near their living quarters. The other tenants are employed in restaurants, retail shops and markets in and around the area.

They chose Malayan Mansion because of its central and convenient location as it was close to major transport hubs.

Menara City One condominium along with Malayan Mansion and Selangor Mansion were in the spotlight after they became the first three buildings in Kuala Lumpur to be placed under the enhanced movement control order (MCO) on March 31 and April 7.

The enhanced MCO was imposed after 17 people were diagnosed with Covid-19 at Menara City One and 15 in the two flats.

Foreigners make up most of the residents in the Selangor and Malayan Mansion flats which house shoplots as well.

While the enhanced MCO has since been lifted, the buildings are still in a bad state and Bahadur is worried as he sleeps and eats in a confined space with his flat mates.

A majority of residents at rundown flats in Kuala Lumpur are foreign workers. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG and RAJA FAISHAL HISHAN/The StarA majority of residents at rundown flats in Kuala Lumpur are foreign workers. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG and RAJA FAISHAL HISHAN/The Star

Filthy living conditions, uncollected rubbish and living in close proximity in cramped spaces are a recipe for disaster during Covid-19.

Overcrowding has caused rubbish bins to overflow in these places and this increases the risk of multiple diseases occurring.

The scenario is not only happening at Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion; there are many similar crowded old flats in Kuala Lumpur.

On May 10, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the spread of Covid-19 among foreigners was due to their crowded living spaces.

Noor Hisham cited the Menara City One condominium, Malayan Mansion and Selangor Mansion as perfect examples.

He said the situation was also prevalent at construction sites with foreign workers.

More than 100 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the three buildings and two neighbourhoods in Kuala Lumpur that the government placed under enhanced MCO.

Bukit Bintang Central Environment Committee (BBCEC) chairman Simon Leong said there were countless old flats in the Bukit Bintang area, where 90% of the residents comprised foreign workers.

Their living quarters were filthy, he noted.

“Old buildings such as Hick’s Mansion, Sun Complex, Bedara flats in Changkat Bukit Bintang, Jalan Berangan, Jalan Beremi, Imbi and Pudu are hotbeds for the virus,” he said.

Babu Lal, who manages a small homestay business in Bukit Bintang, said they were right to be worried.

“When you look at the areas placed under enhanced MCO, they share common denominators,” he added.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) Bukit Bintang branch manager Yusman Haiti said there was very little civic consciousness among those staying at these rundown flats.

“These are private buildings, so it is the duty of the building owners to ensure the place is kept clean,” he stressed.

Leong recalled asking DBKL to clean up Hick’s Mansion because it was filthy and a health hazard.

“Just a few months ago, we organised a gotong-royong there, but it took only two days for the place to revert to its former state,” he added.

In Brickfields Community Society secretary Dr Christopher Nicholas’ view, the situation is the price the nation is paying for the way foreign workers are handled in Malaysia.

“We ignore their welfare and housing needs and this is the result,” he said.

Brickfields Community Society is a coalition of 40 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including residents associations and places of worship.

S. Raymond, a resident in Brickfields, said he was concerned about the old flats in Jalan Ang Seng where 95% of residents were foreign workers.

“In some parts, even the old houses have been let to them, where 15 to 20 foreign workers are forced to live in cramped quarters.

“And they do not practise good hygiene,” he said.

Stakeholders said there should be more stringent enforcement by DBKL or some way to compel owners and residents of these flats to take responsibility for their living space and clean up.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan has advised owners and managers of residential buildings with a large number of foreigners among their tenants to ensure that cleaning services continue during the MCO.

“We do not want a repeat of what happened at Selangor and Malayan mansions.

“Private building owners with a joint management body (JMB) or management committee must do their job.

“It is not DBKL’s duty to clean up your buildings,” he emphasised.

National House Buyers Association secretary-general Datuk Chang Kim Loong said in the event a property management company failed to upkeep the premises in line with the standard operating procedure issued by Housing and Local Government Ministry under the MCO, the JMB or aggrieved owners could lodge an official complaint with the Board of Valuers, Appraisers, Estate Agents and Property Managers.

“They can also lodge a complaint with the Commissioner of Buildings and DBKL and seek the Health Department’s intervention to ensure compliance,” he added.

To-date, Dr Noor Hisham said 24,125 foreign workers had been screened for Covid-19, of whom 1,132 tested positive.

The patients consisted of nationals from Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Pakistan who were either migrant workers, asylum seekers, refugees or tourists.

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