Getting back to business

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 03 May 2020

POPULATION-wide mass testing carried out to identify and contain sporadic and asymptomatic Covid-19 cases is not likely to help prevent the Covid-19 spread and the movement control order (MCO) should continue while allowing business to resume in stages, says the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF).

While deeming mass testing a futile exercise and saddled with logistical issues, MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan says that the MCO still needs to be enforced for a longer period until the health authorities are sure and confident that Covid-19 is no longer a threat to the nation.

"However, extension of MCO does not mean that all economic activities are not allowed to be carried out.

"There is a real need to find a delicate balance between the health of the employees and the society and the need to ensure that the livelihood of the employees, the employers and the country is safeguarded and be put back on the right track," he tells Sunday Star.

On May 1, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced a conditional MCO with strict standard operating procedures (SOP) for re-opening the economy.

Companies are required to provide flexible working days and hours to manage the number of staff members in the office while workers are required to declare their health status, wear face masks, practise social distancing, among other things.

Employers are also required to appoint a safety and health officer, a site safety officer, an occupational safety and health officer or a workplace safety and health committee secretary as a coordinator for the reporting of adherence to the Covid-19 Risks Control Programme status.

Stressing that MEF will abide by the new SOP, Shamsuddin agrees that employers should be allowed to resume business at a small scale while under MCO such as one third of its usual output before increasing it in stages depending on the health authorities' ability to control the spread of Covid-19.

Instead of mass testings, testings should be targeted at employees that are required to resume their duties before being allowed to start work, he says.

However, they should be allowed to return at any stage if rapid test kits are still not available at Social Security (Socso) panel clinics, he adds.

Shamsuddin says that another segment of the population that should undergo testing are those under enhanced MCO or red zones.

For the private sector, he says that the Socso has decided to bear the cost of screening for Covid-19, including foreign workers. (MTUC has objected to this)

Recently, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said that all foreign workers at the enhanced MCO areas will be screened but only suspected cases will be tested.

Meanwhile, Fomca supreme council member Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah says that mass testing for the general population is not really meaningful as the cost is high and the timing for testing is difficult to determine because infection may occur at any time.

Moreover, those who tested negative may become complacent and risk getting infected and spreading it, he says, adding that it was also not known how long the negative test result status will last.

"Testing should be limited to contact tracing among community clusters with the purpose of isolating positive cases," he says.

Instead, the authorities should start getting people involved in community initiated programmes such as Komunity Sihat Perkasa Negara (Kospen), Communication for Behavorial Impact (Combi) and Rukun Tetangga committee on measures that needed to be adopted and which could lead to economic activities being revived.

The Kospen and Combi programmes have been used by the government to combat NCDs and dengue respectively.

"All should be educated and empowered to practice social distancing, contactless engagement, use face covers, adopt cough etiquette and wash hands with soap," he says.

On April 28, senior consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar-Singh in a Letter to the Editor says the pandemic is estimated to last at one or two years.

This is echoed by Special Adviser on public health to the Prime Minister Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood who said on May 2 that people must be prepared to endure the Covid-19 pandemic for the next two years. While the Malaysian health system is ready for the spikes which may pop up now and then, the Mercy Malaysia founder also said that a pandemic can only end when the whole society is empowered and participated in controlling the pandemic.

Says Dr Amar, in view of low grade community spread of Covid-19 that is still on-going and MCO not being sustainable in the long-run, the relaxing of MCO need to be done in stages with all Malaysians acting "responsibly, maintaining vigilance and strict discipline".

His checklist for people returning to work at the office also includes reducing the number of people working at any one time, working from home, sitting one to two metres apart, putting partitions between workers, staggering time for employees entering and exiting building.

Other measures include wearing masks, no socialising except to communicate for work purpose, avoid face-to-face meeting, avoid sharing common areas, office supplies and kitchen appliances, increase ventilation by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning, changing to contactless taps and foot operated door openers, and closing toilet lids after flushing.

"We need to behave and act as though everyone around us is Covid-19 positive. We need to behave and act as though we have an asymptomatic infection of Covid-19 and can infect others.

"We need to protect all older persons as if they are our parents and all those vulnerable to Covid-19 as our sisters and brothers," he says.

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