Coronavirus: Asia

Johor, Pahang record rise in cases due to prison clusters

PETALING JAYA • A surge in the number of prisoners infected with the coronavirus in Johor and Pahang has kept up the number of total cases reported in Malaysia over the last two days.

The Health Ministry yesterday reported 1,870 total new Covid-19 cases, with Johor leading the tally for the first time.

Johor state recorded 607 new cases, of which 374 - 61.6 per cent - were attributed to a newly identified cluster called Tembok Choh, which involves a prison. The government did not say where the prison was located.

On Tuesday, a separate new cluster detected in a prison in eastern Pahang state led to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The ministry's director-general, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, said on Tuesday that the Tembok Mempaga cluster in Pahang's Bentong district recorded 282 cases, making up 98 per cent of the total 288 new cases in the state that day.

The Pahang detainee cluster started with a person in the prison who was diagnosed positive on Dec 22. The virus quickly spread to others.

The spread of the coronavirus in the Johor and Pahang prisons came after other clusters formed in prisons and detention centres in Malaysia over the last few months, as detainees are often placed closely together in cells.

Clusters involving lock-ups, immigration detention depots and prisons in several Malaysian states accounted for 307, or 16 per cent, of the total 1,925 new cases logged on Tuesday.

Yesterday, the prisoner and detainee clusters totalled 402, or 21.5 per cent, of the 1,870 new cases.

The worrying rise in the number of cases among those behind bars has eclipsed that involving foreign workers at glove factories in the last two months.

There has also been an increase in cases involving construction sites.

Malaysia yesterday logged six new fatalities to bring the total number of coronavirus deaths to 463.

"For now, we are monitoring 220 active clusters and 50 of them saw an increase in cases," Dr Noor Hisham said.

Meanwhile, as Covid-19 screening became mandatory for all foreign workers, employers have urged the Malaysian government to control the service fee imposed by clinics and hospitals for tests.

"Prices have gone up now that it's mandatory to test all foreign workers," said Real Estate and Housing Developers' Association Malaysia president Soam Heng Choon.

He said the prices of the antigen rapid test kit that used to cost between RM50 (S$16) and RM60 several months ago were now between RM100 and RM120.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2020, with the headline 'Johor, Pahang record rise in cases due to prison clusters'. Subscribe