Coronavirus Asia

Worries over Malaysia's workplace virus clusters

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

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

"Someone from my office just tested positive (for Covid-19) this week. And since I need to use public transport, I also worry about commuting," she said.

"The number of cases is very high. I have a phobia of going out."

An officer at a government ministry in Putrajaya is also concerned about having to go to her workplace daily amid a rising number of cases in the administrative capital, which had 33 new cases on Thursday.

"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 infections in Malaysia, with hundreds of cases traced to private companies as well as government agencies.

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

Yesterday, 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.

Among the workplaces recently affected are factories, oil palm plantations, learning institutions, and Malaysia's biggest wholesale market in Kuala Lumpur, which has been closed from Thursday.

A total of 163 infections have been detected at the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market.

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

This week, staff at public transport provider Prasarana, who were in close contact with its chairman 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 sanitised.


  • 7

    New clusters reported yesterday that were related to workplaces.


    Number of workplace infections out of the 3,631 cases recorded yesterday.

Datuk Seri Tajuddin, who is also an Umno lawmaker, had earlier this month attended a news conference with Umno MP Nazri Aziz, who also tested positive earlier this week, joining a growing list of MPs with Covid-19.

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 the Christmas and New Year period.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said: "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 movement 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."

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

Mr H.C Chan, chief executive of Sunway Malls and Theme Parks, which operates seven malls across Malaysia, said: "As the malls continue to operate during the MCO for shoppers and our 12,000-strong working population to purchase essential items and daily necessities, a high standard of safety measures has been put in place."

The measures include installing thermal scanners and digital thermometers at all entrances for shoppers. All mall employees have also been given masks and sanitiser sprays.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2021, with the headline 'Worries over Malaysia's workplace virus clusters'. Subscribe