It’s not more “clout” that’s needed YB Ismail Sabri, but clear thinking about control measures

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) is disappointed though not too surprised with the gleeful statement by the Minister of Defence, YB Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on 14/1/21 that armed forces personnel will now be used to arrest and lock-up undocumented foreign workers. This is a sad indication that some Ministers in TS Muhyiddin’s cabinet think that they know everything and do not need to consider the opinions and suggestions of others.

Since March 2020, the PSM has been among the several groups advocating a one-year Moratorium for immigration offenses so as to remove one of the main obstacles preventing foreign workers from cooperating with the government’s efforts to control the Covid pandemic. At present we have about 2 million foreign workers with valid travel documents and work permits in the country. In addition there are another 3 to 4 million foreign workers without valid documents.

This second group (of undocumented workers) will avoid contact with the government’s health services, as approaching the authorities for Covid tests will most likely result in their arrest, internment and deportation. For the vast majority of these young and relatively fit workers, Covid will only result in a mild self-limiting illness with a mortality rate of less than 0.3%. So it is not at all in their interest to cooperate with our government’s effort to identify and quarantine all positive Covid cases. And given their numbers – 3 million strong – this reluctance on their part will severely impair our government’s efforts to control the transmission of Covid in our country.

The MKN (National Security Council) should seriously address this glaring weakness in our Covid control strategy and take immediate steps to win over the cooperation of foreign workers. In addition to announcing the moratorium on immigration offenses, the government should also take immediate steps to improve the quality of basic services in the quarantine centres for mildly symptomatic Covid cases. We hear that in many of these centres there are insufficient toilets and that the few that are provided are poorly maintained. Surely the government can position some mobile toilets in these centres or else quickly build some. (China built a 15-storey hospital in Wuhan in 12 days. Surely we can build a single-storey facility with 50 toilets in 2 weeks!) Also, perhaps some of the relatively asymptomatic Covid patients can be given contracts to keep the premises, including the toilets, clean.

The people of Malaysia are, on the whole, prepared to sacrifice their freedom of mobility and in many cases their income as well so that the Covid epidemic can be brought under control. It will be a great injustice to the many Malaysians who are sacrificing for the greater good if the government continues to mishandle the management of the foreign workers in the country, thus prolonging the period that the lockdown will have to be imposed.

Dr.Jeyakumar Devaraj
Parti Sosialis Malaysia
former Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput

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