‘Speed up jabs for factory workers’


PETALING JAYA: Despite the national lockdown since June 1, the spread of Covid-19 at the workplace, mainly involving factory workers, continues to dominate cases linked to clusters.

As such, health experts have called for a targeted vaccination exercise to stem the spread of the virus among these workers.

Of the 162 new Covid-19 clusters identified from May 30 to June 5, a total of 51 clusters, or 31.5%, involved factory workers who were mostly detected from targeted workplace screening.

These new clusters from factory workers made up 61.7% (1,825 cases) of overall Covid-19 cases detected from all new clusters.

Universiti Putra Malaysia consultant clinical microbiologist Prof Dr Zamberi Sekawi believes that the spread of Covid-19 involving factory workers, especially foreigners, occurred at their hostels.

“Even if some of the factories are closed during the lockdown, the workers live together and this is one of the factors contributing to the rapid spread of Covid-19 among them, ” he said.

He said they were “vulnerable” due to their living conditions, and so vaccinating them should be a priority.

“In some countries, migrant workers are not allowed to go out freely to help contain the spread of Covid-19. Here, they are allowed to do so and this fuels the spread of the disease within the community, ” he said.

Dr Zamberi suggested that after vaccinating the high-risk group in phase two of the national vaccination programme, the government should look at available data and target the group which posed a greater threat, such as factory and foreign workers.

He said should the government impose this measure, the ministries involved should be transparent on the decision-making process and consult experts and stakeholders in order to clarify why such measures were needed.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman felt the lack of adherence to the SOP was a major contributor to the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace, especially involving familiar settings.

“This is particularly true when individuals gather with their colleagues to have meals or to chat. Lack of adherence to the SOP is because most will trust each other, and they perceive it is very unlikely to get infected from their own friends or someone respected, ” she said, adding that most would adhere to the recommended preventive measures when they were with people they did not know.

Due to the “prolonged” outbreak involving the spread of Covid-19 at factory sites, Dr Malina said there was no other choice than to expedite vaccination among the workers.

“To rely on the SOP itself may be useful in the interim but for the long term, the results so far failed to provide the intended outcomes, ” she said.

Association of Malaysian Medical Industries secretary-general Datuk Haminnuddin Abd Hamid disagreed that the spread of Covid-19 in the community originated mainly from factory workers.

“I believe most of the workers got infected from the community or their families and brought it to the workplace or hostels and infected others, ” he said.

Haminnuddin said the medical supply factory he owned followed the SOP strictly and adhered to the government’s directive to have only 60% of the workforce on site, although some of the production lines had to be shut.

“Workers who do not feel well are required to stay home and sent for Covid-19 screening. If tested negative, they can return to work but those who have been a close contact will undergo the required quarantine and still receive their salaries, ” he said, urging the government to expedite vaccination for factory workers.

Safetyware Group managing director Wong Kee Wei backed the requirement of allowing only 60% workers on site, saying this reduced the density in the workplace.

“The current SOP set by the authority is good enough. However, the effectiveness depends on how strict it is being implemented and enforced by bosses, as well as compliance by workers, ” he said.

Wong said people should be encouraged to voluntarily disclose their health status and close contact with those infected with Covid-19, as soon as they knew.

“The company will then need to take quick action to contain any possible spread by getting the workers tested and workplace sanitised, ” he said, adding that early detection was key.

He said the vaccination programme should be sped up and employers could help by encouraging more workers to register.

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