Malaysia Group Tests Migrant Workers as Virus Clusters Emerge

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An aid organization in Malaysia is offering free coronavirus tests for migrant workers to let them resume their jobs as the country grapples with infections spreading among immigration detainees.

Mercy Malaysia has done tests on refugees, migrant workers and lower-income Malaysians since May, while urging undocumented people to undergo testing. Employees must be tested for the virus before they can return to work as part of guidelines in Malaysia’s relaxed lockdown, with the tests costing hundreds of ringgit.

The country has seen clusters of cases in immigration depots, where undocumented migrants including women and children are held following a crackdown that started in April. The depots have become hotbeds for the virus to spread, with more than half of Wednesday’s 93 new confirmed cases originating from there. But fears of detention have kept an untold number from seeking testing, risking the continued spread of infections.

The International Labour Organization estimates 2 million registered migrant workers in Malaysia, while a World Bank study estimated 1.23 million to 1.46 million of irregular workers as of 2017.

Even if they were to apply for testing, Mercy Malaysia can’t guarantee safe passage for the undocumented people, President Ahmad Faizal Mohd Perdaus told state news agency Bernama. He only asked immigration authorities to be “understanding” of the public health effort.

Overall, 466 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday, while another 1,175 await their results. Most of them are Indian, Bangladesh and Indonesian citizens, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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