Testing foreign workers for Covid-19 a good move, but it won't be cheap, say groups

PETALING JAYA: The government should step in and help employers screen foreign workers for Covid-19, say the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang said the measure for all foreign workers to be tested for Covid-19 was good.

He added that although employers are responsible for their workers' welfare, the government should help if the cost of testing was too high.

"If they encounter difficulties, employers should be allowed to appeal for help. The government can consider charging them a minimal cost or provide some subsidy," he said.

Amrahi noted that the price of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test ranged from RM360 to RM700 at private healthcare centres.

Duopharma Biotech Group managing director Leonard Ariff Abdul Shatar said the government had identified accredited laboratories to perform the tests.

"The price is high due to the ancillary equipment used, as well as the time required to perform the tests.

"The turnaround time for the test ranges from six hours to 48 hours, depending on the type of test, the type of PCR machine used and the volume to be tested," he said.

Amrahi said to make testing affordable, private clinics and community pharmacies could be roped in to do a cheaper antigen rapid test kit (RTK).

"The cost is under RM50 each. It is from South Korea and has a sensitivity rate of 84.4% and a specificity rate of 100% to the virus," he said.

With the RTK, testing can be done at the point of care, without the need to send test samples to labs.

Former deputy Health director-general Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said that the RTK should be made available widely.

He added that the test should be affordable or it would not aid early detection and could lead to health inequality issues, especially in urban areas.

He also believed the government should consider using affordable methods like the RTK as a primary diagnostic platform.

"Anything more than RM50 per test is considered expensive for the large majority of lower-middle class and B40 groups," he said.

Dr Lokman said as the cost of testing foreign workers was high, the government could consider making it part of an economic incentive package and provide tax exemption for expenses like these.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N. Ganabaskaran also said many businesses might not be able to afford the tests as they had already suffered losses during the movement control order.

"Efforts should be made to look into foreign workers' work environment and living conditions, particularly those at factories and construction sites.

"They must adapt quickly to the new norm and ensure social distancing and personal hygiene is observed at all times at the workplace," he said, adding this should be clearly communicated to the foreign workers.

He also said authorities should work with relevant organisations to reach out to undocumented foreign workers as they too had a "universal right to healthcare".

On Monday (May 4), Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that all foreign workers must go through Covid-19 tests, with employers bearing the cost.

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Covid-19 , Coronavirus , Foreign workers , Testing , Cost


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