Workplace clusters are key source of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia

Sanitisation takes place every night after closing time at Sunway Pyramid shopping mall, Malaysia. PHOTO: SUNWAY MALLS AND THEME PARKS

KUALA LUMPUR - Accounts clerk Madam Kayal Muthu, 43, is troubled by the thought of going back to office once Malaysia's movement control order (MCO) is lifted early next month.

"Someone from my office just tested positive this week. And since I need to use public transport, I also worry about commuting. The number of cases is very high. I have a phobia of going out now," she told The Straits Times.

An officer at a government ministry in Putrajaya is also concerned about having to go to work daily because the number of cases are rising in the administrative capital, which had 33 new cases on Thursday (Jan 21).

"I have been exposed frequently to people who were positive, and I have been tested 10 times for Covid-19 since July last year," said the officer, who wanted to be known only as Madam JC.

Workplace clusters have emerged as a key source of Covid-19 infection in Malaysia, with hundreds of cases traced to private companies as well as government agencies.

Though most people are working from home during the MCO, which began on Jan 13, essential businesses and many retailers are operating as usual.

On Friday (Jan 22), the Health Ministry reported that seven out of 12 new clusters were workplace-related, with 262 cases, out of the daily total of 3,631 infections.

One of the new clusters was detected through a workplace screening on security guards at a shopping mall in Johor Baru.

A total of 46 people have been screened, with 43 found positive. They were all staying in the same hostel in Taman Century.

On Thursday (Jan 21), 11 out of 16 new clusters reported were related to workplaces, involving a total of 205 infections out of the 3,170 recorded on the day.

Among the workplaces affected are factories, palm oil plantations, learning institutions, and Malaysia's biggest wholesale market in Kuala Lumpur, which has been closed from Jan 21. A total of 163 infections have been detected at the Kuala Lumpur Wholesale Market.

Glovemaker Top Glove is in the grip of a fresh outbreak, with infections reported at four factories in Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, and Selangor. As at Jan 16, 165 workers tested positive.

This week, staff at public transport provider Prasarana who were in close contact with its chairman, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, had to be tested after he was confirmed to be infected on Wednesday.

The rest of the staff were told to self-quarantine at home and the entire office building was deep-cleaned and sanitised.

Mr Tajuddin, who is also an Umno lawmaker, earlier this month attended a news conference with fellow Umno MP Nazri Aziz, who also tested positive this week, joining a growing list of MPs who have contracted the disease. Four Cabinet ministers tested positive in recent days.

Some believe the spike in numbers is due to the government lifting an interstate travel ban on Dec 7 last year, resulting in many people travelling to go home or vacationing during Christmas and the New Year period.

"The rise in workplace-related clusters is not because companies have taken Covid-19 lightly. At the end of 2020, we saw a lot of movements among the community and workers, which caused more infections. When Covid-19 is detected through testing at the workplace, then it is categorised as a workplace cluster," said Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan.

Meanwhile, with malls being allowed to remain open during the MCO, safety measures are a priority.

"As the malls continue to operate during the MCO for shoppers and our 12,000 working population to purchase essential items and daily necessities, a high standard of safety measures have been put in place," Mr H.C Chan, CEO of Sunway Malls and Theme Parks, which operates seven retail malls across Malaysia, told The Straits Times.

The measures include installing thermal scanners and digital thermometers at all entrances for shoppers, tenant staff and mall employees, regular disinfection at common touch points and public areas, deep cleaning and fogging every night, and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation in the air-conditioning system to kill or inactivate micro-organisms.

All mall employees have also been given masks and personal sanitiser sprays.

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