Frankly Speaking: Should testing be mandatory at factories?

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 14, 2021 - June 20, 2021.
Frankly Speaking: Should testing be mandatory at factories?
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Workplace clusters continue to be the main contributor to Covid-19 infections in the country after more than a year since the outbreak of the virus. According to Ministry of Health data, for the year to June 10, some 1,058 or 55.4% of the total Covid-19 clusters were from workplaces, contributing 88,102 cases. 

It is worth noting that of late, almost on a daily basis, companies have been announcing shutdowns at their factories because of positive cases among workers. 

Late last month, health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah expressed concern over the rising trend of Covid-19 clusters involving workplaces, particularly factories. This was despite the implementation of the nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) on May 12. 

He said the three states with the most workplace clusters between April 1 and May 26 were Selangor, Johor and Penang. This is not surprising as the three states are major contributors to the country’s economy and have many industrial parks with a large number of factories. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry recently launched the [email protected] initiative, which promotes enhanced public health measures at work that empower employers to be accountable for containing the pandemic among workers. Under the initiative, employers should carry out targeted screening of workers as and when necessary. 

The question is, how many factories will do this on a regular basis? Should regular testing at factories be made mandatory? Some major companies with thousands of workers in their employment have undertaken regular testing. Gamuda Bhd has even set up its own RT-PCR testing laboratory for its 20,000 staff. 

The argument for this would be that even at reduced capacity under the full MCO, the risk of infection is present from asymptomatic cases that are undetected by thermometer scanners. 

Certainly, regular screening, even the cheaper and faster antigen tests, adds to operating costs. This, however, needs to be weighed against the cost of shutdowns, loss of business, treatment for those who are ill and, in a worst-case scenario, loss of lives. 

Clearly, the scale tips in favour of regular testing.

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