Hassan Talib & Megat Mohd Azlan Md Arshad Published Modified 17 Aug 2020, 7:28 am

COVID-19 | Malaysians returning from overseas and foreign visitors pose a bigger risk in the spread of Covid-19 than foreign workers who are already in the country.

As such, there is no compelling reason to implement compulsory testing of all foreign workers at the moment, a Health Ministry expert said.

The MOH also does not see foreign workers as a “time-bomb”, as viewed by some critics, who urge mandatory testing in the model of Singapore, which is testing residents of all workers’ dorms, the expert said.

The expert is a senior member of the ministry’s Disease Control Unit working on the front lines of the fight against Covid-19, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as civil servants are not allowed to speak to the media without prior approval.

Using the Sivagangga cluster in Kedah as an example, she said it started as a result of a permanent resident who returned from abroad and did not comply with the home quarantine orders.

This resulted in those who came into contact with him being infected.

Not including the returnee, only five of the 45 infected were foreign workers and they were only infected after contact with the returnee, who is their employer.

This prompted the government to reintroduce mandatory quarantine at designated hotels and centres for all returnees, the experts added.

‘Less than one percent of foreign workers tested were positive’

She said MOH data showed that up to two percent of those returning home tested positive and hence the more urgent need for them to be quarantined, compared with foreign workers in the country.

In comparison, less than one percent of the 72,000-plus non-Malaysians tested were found to be infected with Covid-19.

Malaysia has an estimated two million documented foreign workers.

“The low positive rate from overall has prompted the MOH to implement a ‘targeted testing’ approach for the moment.

“This approach was successfully used when one case was detected in a restaurant in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, last month.

“Everyone who came into contact with this person was identified and tested and only two of the 584 tested were positive,” she said.

Local transmissions among non-Malaysians have reduced drastically in the past 3 months