WHAT happens when foreign workers have to undergo mandatory home quarantine?
The lack of a proper monitoring system as well as their poor living conditions came to light in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur.
It all started when several foreign workers who tested positive for Covid-19 at a construction site in the neighbourhood were moved to a health facility.
Their housemates who tested negative were ordered to undergo mandatory quarantine at home.
However, when they ran out of food supplies before the two-week period ended, some of the quarantined workers went out to buy food at a local supermarket and were spotted by a resident.
He called Taman Desa Residents Association (TDRA) chairman Wong Chan Choy to inform him of the matter.
Wong tried contacting the workers’ employer or landlord but could not reach them immediately, so he called the Health Ministry hotline for advice.
“When I finally got someone on the line, the person advised me to tell the workers to observe proper home quarantine procedures ’’ he said.
Since Jan 12, other than close contacts of Covid-19 positive patients, the ministry has been allowing home quarantine for Category One and Two cases too, namely those who are asymptomatic and with mild symptoms.
This was because patients were facing delays in hospital transfers as healthcare facilities had reached their full capacity.
No support system
Wong pointed out that many of these foreign workers who were ordered to undergo mandatory home quarantine had no support system or immediate family members to help them buy food or medical supplies.
“So we decided to set up a hotline for those living in Taman Desa to inform us if they know of anyone who may need help, ’’ Wong said.
A banner was placed near the TDRA office to publicise the number.
So far, TDRA has received about 50 calls, mostly from families with children.
“They mostly ask for diapers, food, hand sanitiser, cleaning aids, gloves and face masks.
“On a humanitarian basis, we decided to help out, ’’ he said.
TDRA adviser Datuk William Chan said committee members decided to take proactive steps to assist foreign workers.They took inspiration from Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who had asked the community to play a role in helping vulnerable members of society.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had also called on community leaders to take on a greater role in protecting the community from Covid-19 infections to ease the burden borne by healthcare frontliners.
TDRA member Yap Bian Hwee said there were also requests for sanitisation exercises.
“We got association member Francis Tan to help with sanitisation of units occupied by foreigners who were under quarantine after members of their household tested positive, ’’ he said.
Yap added that they have also had requests from employers to sanitise the units of their workers who tested positive.
Wong added that many foreigners were working at construction sites in Taman Desa but living in residential units in the township.
“And since we have a lot of gated and guarded schemes and many of the security guards are foreigners, there was an urgent need to help them.
“Klang Valley is the epicentre of Covid-19 cases and many are foreigners.
“We all need to do what we can to help the vulnerable, ’’ he said, adding that no resident would want Taman Desa to be placed under lockdown.
Call for help
Tan was manning the hotline when he got a call from a Bangladeshi worker begging for help.
“He told me that his flatmate went missing after testing positive for Covid-19.
“He was scared about contracting the virus together with 10 other flatmates.”
Tan said the man wanted him to help sanitise the flat.
“But we faced several hurdles just to get permission from the unit owner to go in.”
It turned out the landlord had rented the unit to an Indonesian, and she had sublet the flat to 15 others.
After several phone calls, they managed to get permission to go into the flat and were shocked to see their living conditions.
“The 1,200sq metre flat was partitioned into 10 rooms and each had two or three people living in close proximity.
“In some rooms, residents had even constructed a makeshift kitchen.
“It was cramped, a fire hazard and breeding ground for germs and diseases.
“We sanitised the apartment and gave them food, supplements, hand sanitiser and face masks.
“We advised them not to go out and contact us if they needed any help, ’’ he added.
Pathetic living conditions
Hundreds of foreign workers are cooped up in similar quarters in Kuala Lumpur, which pack up to 20 men in a single unit.
StarMetro followed Tan during one of his disinfection exercises, during which all of us wore personal protective equipment.
It was appalling to see the workers crammed into tiny spaces, where it was virtually impossible to practise any sort of physical distancing.
Due to the units being walled up, the living room space was gone and only a tiny corridor remained, allowing one person to get in and out.
During our visit, we noticed there was no hand sanitiser and no one wore a face mask.
Ismail said he only wore a mask whenever he went out.
“It is too hot and stuffy to wear it indoors as there is no proper ventilation here.
“I don’t have money to buy masks and hand sanitiser, ’’ he said.
Tan said it was impossible to follow proper home isolation procedures in such conditions.
“Employers must take responsibility and help their workers stay safe, which is not possible when people have to share sleeping quarters, and the same toilet and kitchen, ” he added.