Foreign workers must be tested

PUTRAJAYA: All foreign workers must go through Covid-19 tests, with the employers bearing the cost, says Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

However, the swab tests are not compulsory for domestic workers, he said. Premises with positive cases would be sealed off immediately, he added.

The announcement came amid concerns that the number of Covid-19 cases, particularly among foreign workers, is on the rise.

Responding to the news, employers said the additional expenditure was a burden in an already difficult time and they questioned whether there was sufficient capacity to test so many people.

Ismail said the new ruling applied to foreign workers in all economic sectors, including those working in shops, restaurants, factories, construction sites, and other service-based businesses.

He said this was decided following the increase in cases over the past few days, the majority of which were foreign workers.

“Foreign workers in all sectors will have to do swab tests and the cost will have to be borne by employers. The Health Ministry has proposed for the compulsory swab tests to start in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, ” he said.

He said the decision to close premises where workers were found to be positive for Covid-19 was to prevent the virus from spreading.

He added that the authorities had already closed down a construction site in Jalan Ampang after 27 new cases were detected there.

On Sunday, Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa instructed developers and contractors with active project sites in Kuala Lumpur to get their workers tested for Covid-19. For foreign maids, Ismail said it was up to the employers to determine if their maids needed to undergo the swab test.“We leave it to the employers’ discretion as they are aware of the health status of their maids, who live with them. However, they need to immediately send the maids for tests if they show any symptoms, ” he said.According to the Health Ministry, 21,271 non-citizens had been screened for Covid-19, with 811 testing positive. As of April 30, four foreigners have died in Malaysia after contracting the disease.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said the testing requirement might be a knee-jerk reaction to the cases detected at the Jalan Ampang construction site.

Its executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said that it was unfair to conclude that foreign workers were the cause of many Covid-19 cases.

He claimed that employers had wanted to make arrangements for all workers, including foreigners, to be tested but were told that the test kits were not here yet. He pointed out that a swab test cost at least RM500 and there were 2.3 million registered foreign workers in the country. Based on these figures, he said, employers would go out of business if they had to pay for the tests.

“On one hand, we have been allowed to operate to help us survive, but now they are saying we must pay for the tests, ” he said.

Shamsuddin said the government should bear the cost of the tests.“We understand that the government can only do 16,000 tests a day. Even if all are reserved for foreign workers, it would take almost half a year to screen all of them, ” he said.

Datuk Jamarulkhan Kadir, president of Malaysian Indian Muslim Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said many small and medium enterprises were on the verge of collapse and the added burden of paying for the costs would be a big blow.

He said that while testing was a good idea and a fair concern of the government, it should be for those in the red areas such as Masjid India or Selayang.

“What’s the purpose of conducting tests in, say, Penang or Perlis, which have no cases recorded in the past few weeks?” he asked.

The Malaysian Bar meanwhile said it feared that the detention of undocumented migrants would send counterproductive messages through the community.

“Such migrants may evade the authorities, or avoid and refuse to seek medical treatment, ” its president Salim Bashir said.

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