Health DG: Change foreign worker accommodation to prevent future virus outbreaks

Annabelle Lee

Modified 27 May 2020, 1:51 pm

CORONAVIRUS | Health Ministry director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has advised that foreign worker living conditions be improved to prevent them from becoming a hotbed for infectious diseases outbreaks.

During his daily Covid-19 briefing today, he hoped lessons would be learned from the Covid-19 outbreaks detected at the Bukit Jalil, Semenyih and Sepang immigration detention centres.

The Bukit Jalil centre has emerged as the second-largest cluster in the country, with 282 cases in total - all of them foreign nationals.

“Certainly, we need to look into the accommodation of some of our workers. I think the source of (the outbreak) is that.

“If there is an infection, not only Covid-19 but we are talking about tuberculosis and all the (other) infectious diseases, if you live in a confined space, definitely infectious diseases will continue to spread,” he said.

Elaborating, he hoped for a “long-term” solution to the problem.

“I think we have to look into the short-term as well as long-term to solve this problem of confined and crowded spaces, especially for the foreign workers.

“Today, we have to change the norm of how we do things. (We need to do things) differently from the past to have a better future, in time,” he said.

The three depots hold undocumented migrants arrested before and during the movement control areas (MCO).

At the beginning of this month, immigration officials had conducted raids in areas like Selayang, Masjid India and Chow Kit - localities that were both under an enhanced MCO and home to many migrant workers.

Noor Hisham said today that the ministry had not been able to “pinpoint” the source of infection in the depots thus far.

All patients and close contacts are presently held at a temporary hospital at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (Maeps) in Selangor. 

Earlier today, Human Resources Minister M Saravanan announced that enforcement of a law that allows the ministry's strict oversight over workers’ accommodation would be postponed.

Gazetted in Sept 2019, amendments to the Workers’ Minimum Standards and Housing and Amenities Act 1990 were supposed to come into force on June 1.

Saravanan said enforcement will now begin on Sept 1 “to give employers the space to make the necessary preparations”.

Keep up with the latest information on the outbreak in the country with Malaysiakini's free Covid-19 tracker.

Malaysiakini is providing free access to the most important updates on the coronavirus pandemic. You can find them here.

Help keep independent media alive - subscribe to Malaysiakini.