Hassan Talib & Megat Mohd Azlan Md Arshad Published 

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians returning from overseas and foreign visitors pose a bigger danger than foreign workers already in the country in the fight against Covid-19.

Hence, there are no compelling reasons to implement compulsory testing of all foreign workers for the moment, according to the Health Ministry (MOH).

Foreign workers are the least of its worries, dispelling the perception that their presence is a “time-bomb”. So, more attention is being paid to those returning from abroad, especially from high risk countries.

Using the Sivagangga cluster in Kedah as an example, a senior MOH official said it started as a result of a permanent resident who returned from abroad and did not comply with the home quarantine order, resulting in more infections.

Data showed that about 1-2% of returnees tested positive and hence the need to be quarantined compared with foreign workers in the country.

MOH data indicates that as of Aug 3, about 72,000 foreign workers have been tested and the number of positive cases detected is surprisingly less than 1%.

“This low positivity rate 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 three weeks ago.

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

Admitting that there were teething problems in the testing of foreign workers, she said that the ministry had discovered elements of identification fraud.

“In one instance, we discovered that details from one passport was used by 30 different individuals when testing was done during the lockdown of Selangor Mansion.

“Many were undocumented and resorted to this deceit for fear of being detained by the authorities. As most did not have travel documents, claiming that they were with their employers, they used the same passport number.

“But diligence and thoroughness when processing and analysing the test data enabled MOH officials to identify the wrongdoers.”

Because of the low positive rate, she said, the MAEPS Serdang quarantine station for foreign workers has been closed.

Currently, the focus is on three sectors namely construction, security and services such as restaurants where workers will have to comply strictly with MOH guidelines.

In the plantation sector, employers are encouraged to get their workers to voluntarily go for screening. Data shows that of the 24 clusters identified so far, there were no positive cases in the plantation sector.

This may come across as a surprise because there were initial fears that the presence of a large number of foreign workers would cause the spread of Covid-19 but the positivity rate among them is low.

“The employers are aware of the danger to their businesses and customers if their workers test positive.”

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