Coronavirus pandemic

Infected illegals should get treatment: Malaysia's health chief

Migrant workers are transferred to a detention center after a raid in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on May 20, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah has said migrant workers should not be discriminated against in terms of healthcare, after new clusters of coronavirus infections emerged at detention centres for undocumented migrants over the past few days.

"Negative sentiments against detainees must not be amplified and must not be a catalyst for discrimination in saving lives," he said in a brief Facebook post on Sunday.

He stressed that those infected should receive immediate medical attention, while these centres, which hold thousands of detainees, should undergo decontamination procedures.

"...We need to enhance the active case detection, and isolate and treat those positive cases immediately. Quarantine those close contacts and decontaminate the respective centres.

"The virus knows no boundaries and does not favour any ethnicity and social status. Our whole government and whole community approach should work together to fight the virus," Datuk Dr Noor Hisham wrote.

The fresh cases come as Malaysia this month arrested more than 2,000 foreigners for not having permits that allow them to be in the country, following raids in areas under lockdown for the coronavirus.

The centres they are detained in are often crowded, with dozens of migrants packed in a single cell, which makes social distancing impossible. Detainees can spend months in the centres before they are deported.

Mr Noor Hisham had previously said the migrants were screened for the virus before their arrests, but the virus may not have been detected during the incubation period.

As of yesterday, there were over 200 cases detected at three detention centres - in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, and in Semenyih and Sepang in Selangor.

Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said yesterday that migrant workers at the centres who have tested positive for Covid-19 will be moved to the 600-bed quarantine facility at Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang.

"We will isolate them... to ensure the virus doesn't spread among other detainees," he said.

He said over 4,000 undocumented migrants at the three affected centres would be tested for the virus.

Malaysia reported 172 new coronavirus cases yesterday, taking the total number of infections in the country to 7,417. Most of the new cases were recorded at the three detention centres. The number of deaths remained unchanged at 115.

Labour activists have decried the government's move to nab illegal migrants amid the pandemic, as they may hide from the authorities instead of voluntarily coming forward to be tested.

There are some 2.2 million documented foreign workers in Malaysia, while another three million are believed to be working in the country illegally.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2020, with the headline Infected illegals should get treatment: Malaysia's health chief. Subscribe