THINK TANKS: Urgently Address Workplace Clusters to Avoid Klang Valley Catastrophe in Other States
Updated: Mar 1
*Picture Credit: Azneal Ishak
Bait Al-Amanah and The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) call upon the incoming government to urgently and effectively address COVID-19 workplace clusters in tackling the ongoing pandemic. We need the incoming government to take action to prevent other states in Malaysia from experiencing the same catastrophe plaguing the Klang Valley. We call for proactive measures based on research and scientific data to prevent our public healthcare system from a complete collapse, bearing in mind that other states have less well-equipped public healthcare systems than in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
We support the research findings of Penang-based Stanford mathematician Dr. David Benjamin Lim, calculated based on mathematical models using data from the official Ministry of Health GitHub. The findings highlight the significant contribution of workplace clusters to the basic reproduction number, Ro of Penang, Johor and Negeri Sembilan during the first 6 weeks of total lockdown initiated on the 1st of June 2021. The same argument can be made for the Klang Valley for the first 4 weeks of the total lockdown.
In brief, there is strong evidence that the COVID-19 spread would have decreased if there were no more workplace clusters during this time period. Hence, the recent claim by our former Minister of International Trade and Industry that the contribution of the manufacturing sector to daily cases is minimal is inaccurate. More precisely, just because a particular group of people make up a small percentage of all COVID-19 cases, it does not mean that they cannot be the source of the problem. The main reason for this is that it is entirely possible for there to be a small subset of the population that is very infectious (have very high Ro), and therefore contributes significantly to the total COVID-19 reproduction rate of Malaysia.
Moving forward, Malaysia should implement targeted measures at these workplace clusters and learn from the past ineffective blanket lockdown. We cannot keep enforcing the same measures over and over again, expecting a change in results. We cannot keep punishing entire businesses and sectors with no reported clusters, especially outdoor businesses with ample ventilation. Only granular data will be able to tell us which specific sectors are contributing clusters.
Instead, we propose several measures to tackle the workplace clusters:
i) Targeted lockdown on factories with active Covid-19 clusters;
ii) Establish proper accommodation for migrant workers with adequate living conditions and proper physical distancing by fully enforcing the Employees’ Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodations and Amenities (Amendment) Act 2019 (Act 446);
iii) A rostered routine testing (RRT) regime, where workers will be tested for Covid- 19 every two weeks;
iv) Isolate suspected or positive COVID-19 cases at a dedicated point similar to self- quarantine;
v) Where possible, workplaces should promote good ventilation practices to reduce COVID-19 airborne transmission;
vi) Increase vaccination efforts targeting industry players, local and migrant workers; and
vii)Increase enforcement on illegal factories that employ undocumented migrant workers without the rightful measures in place.
In addition to the recommendations above based on the research findings, we also propose the need to plan ahead to boost our ICU capacity. This can be done by rapidly constructing purpose-built ICU facilities with High Dependency Units located near major hospitals, based on expertise from other nations.
Finally, we call for open and transparent data sharing for a whole-of-society approach to effectively address the COVID-19 spread. It is highly important to openly share granular data especially on the specific sectors of the workplace clusters, including factories and construction sites. In addition, data on infected patients must be granular too, down to district level including necessary features of Covid-19 patients such as comorbidities for better estimation of the local ICU capacity needed (unique identifiers of the patients should be removed to maintain confidentiality).
Malaysia needs a fresh and effective approach to national strategies, grounded in science and data. We need to plan beyond unending lockdowns which have multitudinous repercussions. We must also adopt this approach given the very real possibility that new vaccine-resistant variants of concern (VOC) may emerge. With COVID-19 becoming endemic, we need to employ a stronger whole-of-society approach with increased public engagement. We must use accurate, granular data to direct us towards proper targeted measures. Let the best minds of our nation lead us out of this crashing public health and economic catastrophe, before it is too late.