Public health expert says Malaysia unlikely to follow in Singapore’s footsteps

Malaysia has been recording an increase in Covid-19 cases among migrant workers.

PETALING JAYA: A public health expert has sought to allay concerns that the current spike in Covid-19 cases among migrant workers will see Malaysia following in the footsteps of Singapore, where numbers skyrocketed due to infections within the large migrant community living in dormitories in the city-state.

Dr Rafdzah Ahmad Zaki, a public health specialist with Universiti Malaya, said more cases of Covid-19 would likely be seen in the days to come as a result of the new immigration depot clusters.

However, she said workers in Singapore have greater contact with the general public as dormitories there are within city borders.

In Malaysia, she said, immigration centres are far from city centres and detainees have almost no contact with other communities.

She added that government efforts to curb the spread in these clusters could reduce the number of cases in the weeks ahead.

Singapore registered 1,000 cases on April 1, with 10 infections among workers living in dormitories. Two weeks later, the number of cases rose by over four-fold with 4,427 infections on April 16, 60% of which comprised cases involving migrant workers living in cramped quarters.

As of yesterday, the city-state had recorded over 32,000 cases, the majority of which were among foreign workers.

In Malaysia, meanwhile, three new clusters involving the immigration depots in Sepang, Semenyih and Bukit Jalil were recently identified following a spike in cases among migrant workers there.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said authorities are still investigating the source of the new infections, adding however that some may comprise undocumented migrants detained during immigration raids at various locations including Jalan Masjid India in Kuala Lumpur.

Rafdzah said a larger concern was the rising number of cases among foreign construction workers as these workers can move freely.

Citing the Cheras security guard cluster and the cluster at a construction site in Setia Alam, she said it was important for the community to continue complying with standard operating procedures even if no new cases are reported in their areas.

Given the 14-day incubation period of the virus, she said, any increase in number of cases unrelated to immigration centres might reflect the impact of the government’s move on May 4 to relax constraints under the conditional movement control order as part of efforts to jumpstart the economy.

On any impact brought on by public movement during the recent Hari Raya celebrations, she said an increase in number of cases might be seen in about two weeks’ time.

Judging by the current level of compliance, she said this would be likely.

Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye agreed that a rebound in local transmissions would probably be seen in a week or two.

However, he voiced hope that any such rebound would be marginal.

He said the bulk of new cases comprised foreigners, which put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Citing a study from Germany on the transmission rate among close contacts of Covid-19 patients, he said 75% of those living in the same household as an individual who tests positive will get infected.

“This is why it is extremely important for detention centres to implement social distancing and preventive measures,” he said.

Yesterday, the health ministry confirmed 187 new cases, the majority involving foreigners, bringing the nationwide total to 7,604.

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