‘Improved living quarters better than wristbands’

PETALING JAYA: The living quarters for migrant workers must first be improved in order to tackle the problem of Covid-19 outbreak among them, say health experts. Although there was a suggestion to have all foreign workers wear wristbands to identify them, medical experts said it is more important to focus on providing proper housing for the workers.

“Many foreign workers may be at a higher risk of transmission as crowded living quarters make it difficult to practise physical distancing and good hand hygiene.

“Good prevention practice dictates that we improve their living and hygiene conditions, ” said Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Prof Dr Sanjay Rampal.

Employers hiring migrant workers should be responsible for providing living conditions conducive with the current standard operating procedures (SOP), he added.

“More investment is needed to ensure that these workers are safe. Employers also stand to gain higher productivity in return for helping to curb the spread of Covid-19, ” he said.

Dr Sanjay said the proposal to mandate all foreign workers to wear wristbands may not resolve the problem.

“Wristbands for sub-sections of the population thought to be high-risk promotes stigma and discrimination.

“Any visual identification projects an image that these individuals should be treated differently, ” he said.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman, on the other hand, thought the proposal would be useful to monitor any possible outbreaks among the migrant community.

“In terms of disease surveillance, this is a positive.

“It would be helpful in facilitating any screening and monitoring activities in the field, ” she said.

Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had earlier said the government was mulling whether to make it compulsory for foreign workers to wear wristbands.

“We cannot prevent them from moving around and we cannot even differentiate between the faces of Bangladeshi workers, Myanmar workers and us.

“We are discussing whether there is a need for foreign workers to wear wristbands so that we know when they are out, ” he told a press conference on Wednesday.

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said the most important action to break the chain of infection among foreign workers would be to improve their working and living conditions.

“We need to stress more on how employers need to play their part and make sure their workplaces are safe and that their workers are safe.

“The onus is on the employers to supervise and to ensure that their workers who are positive will not infect other workers.

“It’s not fair to expose other workers to positive cases, especially as they are daily wage earners. When they are exposed and cannot work, they lose their salary, ” he said.

Malaysia’s neighbour Singapore had also previously grappled with clusters cropping up among migrant workers living in dormitories, accounting for about 80% to 90% of cases back in April.

The Singaporean authorities took action by locking down dormitories with known Covid-19 clusters, isolating those who had tested positive and relocating non-infected workers to separate facilities such as military camps, floating hotels and exhibition centres.

Medical outposts were set up at the dormitories, while cleaning, waste management and sanitation efforts were ramped up.

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