Jagdeep: Blanket testing of all foreign workers a huge burden

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government has appealed to the Federal Government to help identify foreign workers in high-risk sectors.

State local government committee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo said in Penang, a blanket Covid-19 rapid antigen test for every registered foreign worker would force employers to fork out a total of RM15.24mil.

“It is a major burden and we’re appealing the Federal Government to help by narrowing this down to foreign workers in high-risk sectors.

“Penang has 127,000 registered foreign workers. We did mass screening for about 15,000 construction workers in April deemed high risk at the time, ” he said, adding that none of them tested positive.

According to a Health Ministry’s notice on Monday, a Covid-19 rapid antigen test by the government for foreigners costs RM120 each.

“Penang has a huge manufacturing industry, with tens of thousands of foreign workers.

“To mobilise all of them for testing will not be easy. It will burden the companies and disrupt their operations, ” Jagdeep Singh said.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers Penang chairman Datuk Jimmy Ong agreed, saying that targeted screening was more effective than blanket testing.

“Only the polymerase chain reaction test is effective in detecting the virus, rather than the cheaper rapid antigen test.

“The rapid antigen test is not covered by Socso. So the cost of between RM120 and RM200 each has to be borne by employers.

“What is much better is for testing to be carried out at the workers’ accommodation where the high risk stems from many people crammed into small spaces.

“If one is tested positive, the entire building should be sanitised, rather than doing it at the workplace where the risk is lower, ” he added.

Ong said there was no guarantee a tested worker would not contract the disease later, adding that “we can’t continue testing all the time”.

“The government should wait for the vaccines to arrive, hopefully by next month, and solve this issue once and for all by vaccinating all the workers, ” he said.

Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had on Friday said all foreign workers in every sector working in Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Sabah, Kuala Lumpur and Labuan must undergo the Covid-19 rapid antigen test.

He said the decision was made following a Human Resources Ministry proposal, with costs borne by both Socso and foreign worker employers who contributed to Socso.

For workers who do not make Socso contributions, the tests are to be fully paid by the employers.

In Penang, a few multinational firms have had to temporarily shut down their production last week after some workers tested positive.

One Singapore-based company had to screen at least 600 staff.

There are about 700 companies in the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone, with about 200,000 workers from various countries.

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