Foot bill for Covid-19 tests on foreign workers, builders urge govt

 Foreigners being screened for Covid-19 at a private lab in Glenmarie, Shah Alam. The Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia and Master Builders Association Malaysia say each swab test can cost RM350 to RM650 per person.

PETALING JAYA: Two more associations are urging Putrajaya to bear the cost of testing foreign workers for Covid-19, citing the heavy price tag contractors, already affected by the crisis, would have to pay.

The Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) Malaysia and Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM) said the estimated cost of a swab test was between RM350 and RM650 per person.

This high cost, they said, translated into a considerable amount that contractors needed to bear, as a construction site “typically has hundreds of workers”.

This does not include other mobilisation costs as well as losses incurred since the start of the movement control order on March 18.

“The virus outbreak and its severity is unexpected, and it is beyond the financial capacity of contractors to bear the cost, especially when contractors are already financially affected by the pandemic,” they said in a joint statement.

Two days ago, the government made it mandatory for foreign workers across the country to undergo Covid-19 screening following a spike in the number of foreign workers testing positive for the virus in Ampang.

Senior Minister (Security) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the initiative would begin in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, with employers bearing the cost of the swab tests.

Ismail also said foreign workers in the construction sector would be screened first, adding that Socso would bear the cost of their swab tests as 60% of these workers were contributors.

The next day, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said the government should foot the bill for these tests, noting it could cost employers over RM1 billion in total in view of more than two million legal foreign workers in the country.

Rehda and MBAM suggested the government look into alternatives such as rapid test kits which were “faster, cheaper and readily available” to accommodate the large volume of workers.

Feedback it received from a member developer showed that out of his 14 workers sent for testing, only three managed to be tested after queuing for five hours. The remaining 11, they said, had to wait for a few more days to secure their slot, which was still unconfirmed.

“The reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests should only be carried out if there is an outbreak at a construction site or carried out intermittently and selectively.”

Earlier this evening, the health ministry assured that it would be able to screen foreign workers — which it recently placed under the “high risk” category — for Covid-19, based on its targeted approach method.

With several million foreign workers in the country, health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said “obviously”, the ministry would not have enough kits to test the community at one go.

Noor Hisham admitted that the process would take some time.

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