‘Consider periodic screening’


Keeping tabs: A health worker taking a nasal swab from a foreign worker in Kuala Lumpur. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: As enforcement on the mandatory Covid-19 screening for foreign workers commenced on New Year’s Day, employers are calling on the government to consider periodic screening for both local and foreign workers owing to the increasing number of daily cases.

Small-Medium Enterprises Association of Malaysia president Datuk Michael Kang said some members that had begun testing their foreign workers some time ago found more Malaysian staff were contracting the virus.

“For SMEs that hire foreign workers, it is mandatory for them to contribute to Socso.

“Therefore their Covid-19 screening using the rapid antigen test kits (RTK-Ag) will be subsidised by Socso.

“So for our Malaysian workforce, they should be tested too, to minimise the spread of the virus, ” he said yesterday, adding that it was important as there had been more workplace-related clusters reported.

Kang said it is vital for the government to look at subsidising periodic screening involving all workers as the antigen test is only a one-off.

“The new year is about learning how to live with the virus within the community before the vaccine is available en masse and takes effect.

“To prevent the spread of the virus, all local and foreign workers should be tested and periodic screening carried out according to the emergence of clusters, ” he said.

Kang also called on employers who have yet to make an appointment to send their workers for screening to go through the Socso directory and locate the most suitable panel clinic and hospital, especially if they have a large number of foreign workers.

“Different panels have different capacity to handle sampling and testing, and they charge different rates too, ” he added.

The Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) Malaysia president Datuk Soam Heng Choon agreed that local workers should be tested too.

“In construction, our local workers also work hand in hand with their foreign counterparts to complete projects.

“So all should be screened and periodic screening should be considered, especially when the mandatory screening only works once, ” he said.

For the plantation industry, it is a different story as overcrowding and physical distancing was never an issue although there are 500,000 foreign workers at plantations nationwide.

Due to these unique characteristics, Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association president Peter Benjamin said they have been appealing to the government to be exempted from mandatory screening.

“Unlike the manufacturing and construction sectors, plantations provide good housing and work sites that are not cramped. We are not overcrowded and physical distancing is not an issue.

“In the field, workers stand about 30m apart when they work.

“By following the oil palm rows which is 9m apart, one worker stands about four rows away, which is about 30m, ” he said.

Although there had been close contact and contact tracing among workers earlier that required quarantine, he said they had managed the situations well and workers had returned to work.

Due to strict control, Benjamin said no one can simply enter the plantation.

Workers, he added, hardly go out as they can get what they need from the estate community.

“So the government should not treat all industries the same and make everyone follow the rules.

“If they study the cases, they will understand this, ” he said, adding that estate owners, for now, will follow the ruling pending their request for an exemption.

On Dec 28, The Star reported that enforcement on mandatory Covid-19 screening for foreign workers will start from Jan 1.

Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan said the enforcement on Jan 1 onwards would only focus on the six high-risk states, involving some 800,000 foreign workers, as the directive had been announced and the programme began running on Dec 1.

The states are Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Sabah and the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan.

For other states, enforcement will take effect after February.

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