No mass testing for market folk

Traders and market-goers are seen wearing face masks while Rela members make their rounds to check on SOP compliance at the Batu Lanchang Market in Penang. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

WHILE Penang factory workers are undergoing mass testing using the Deep Throat Saliva method this week, the same is not being implemented for market traders and hawkers.

Penang health committee chairman Dr Norlela Ariffin said strict observance of standard operating procedure (SOP) would be the most effective way to prevent more Covid-19 outbreaks in public markets.

Asked if mass screening should be mandatory for all traders in view of recent outbreaks at public markets and food centres, she said: “There is no point in having mass screening if people movement cannot be controlled.

“The virus will be able to spread further and create a new cluster.

“Even if we do mass screening, the results will be out in three days and unless we can contain people movement during the period and they can strictly adhere to SOP, then it might work or otherwise there is no point, ” she said when contacted.

She stressed that SOP compliance “is important and is the only way the virus can be stopped from spreading.”

“Without full compliance of SOP, the battle against the pandemic will not be a success and will cause more harm to the public.

“SOP compliance is a must. If the public or premises owner flout the regulations, they must be fined and they must not be allowed to conduct any operations, ” she added.

However, a state assemblyman is calling for mass testing for traders and hawkers.

Batu Lanchang assemblyman Ong Ah Teong said both local councils should consider implementing mandatory mass screening for all traders and hawkers at public markets and food complexes in the state.

“The move is necessary as places like public markets and food complexes are the places frequently visited by the public.

“I think mass screening can help us to detect Covid-19 cases in a particular area, and we can take precautionary measures if cases are detected, ” he said.

He however, added that “it is up to the local authorities to decide whether the move is feasible for them.”

Ong said his service centre team conducted its own initiative by rolling out subsidised Covid-19 test programme in his constituency.

So far about 400 hawkers and traders have taken part in the programme where each of them have to pay only RM80 for the RTK Antigen Covid-19 tests at Lam Wah Ee Hospital instead of the full amount of RM120.

He hopes more hawkers and traders will come forward to participate in the programme.

On May 20, the Batu Lanchang food complex was closed for seven days after three of its hawkers tested positive for Covid-19.

The voluntary closure was to allow sanitisation work to be carried out at the complex.

On May 17, the Jelutong Market was ordered to close with immediate effect after four traders came down with Covid-19.

All 60 stalls in the market as well as the 218 temporary hawker sites and temporary static roadside stalls were also ordered to close until further notice.

On May 12, the Bagan Ajam Market on mainland Penang was closed for three days after the detection of the Terbilang cluster with all 43 people screened turning out to be Covid-19 positive.

In the manufacturing sector, it was earlier reported that some of the 400,000 employees working in factories under the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) Penang will be undergoing on-site mass Covid-19 screening using the polymerase chain reaction test of deep throat saliva samples.

FMM Penang mooted this mass testing earlier this month for quick detection of cases among workers and the saliva test approach received the approval of the Penang Health Department and Putrajaya.

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