Pay attention to factories, workers’ quarters

So now as it stands when it comes to my birthday… if I blow the candles out on my cake does that mean I can eat the whole cake and no one else can? Covid and all that. – Unknown

These Covid-19 statistics should worry us in Sarawak. The total number of infections is now more than 60,000 and we are staring at a death toll of 400 this week.

Nationwide, we have surpassed 700,000 cases with the number of fatalities climbing up to more than 4,200 as of yesterday.

All of us know one thing is certain — the number of positive cases will increase and sadly, there will be more fatalities.

It must now be understood and spelt out clearly to the public. The people must be told right in the face that who lives or who dies will depend on the action or inaction of each individual.

If we are disciplined — follow the SOPs, wear mask, wash hands, stay home, avoid crowded places, chances are we will survive the pandemic. Now, there is another advice — get vaccinated.

To the undisciplined, the rule breakers and those who wish to continue rolling the dice, we say “good luck” to them.

For their sake, let’s hope they are justifiably correct to believe that somehow, they can get the better of Covid-19 or that the virus will be very kind and spare them.

From the updates, it is also clear that new clusters seem to originate a lot from factories, workers’ quarters or hostels. I think we have to focus more attention on this, not only in Sarawak but throughout the country.

Just over the weekend, the State Health Department identified four such new clusters in Sarawak.

They are the Lorong Perlis Empat factory cluster in Kuala Baram, Miri, the Jalan Usaha Jaya cluster involving workers’ hostels in Jalan Usaha Jaya in Kuching, the Jalan Tabuan Tranquility workplace cluster involving employees of a restaurant at Jalan Tabuan Tranquility, also in Kuching.

The fourth cluster, dubbed the Kampung Taba Sait cluster, was a community cluster involving the residents of Kampung Taba Sait, Bengoh Resettlement Scheme, Kuching.

The State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) reported that more than 100 infections came from these four clusters alone with over 1,000 contacts awaiting test results.

I wish to share with the authorities an insight from a Sarawakian friend (let’s call him James) who is a factory manager in Johor on why the number of cases continues to be high.

Over the weekend, James shared with me: “This is a real case which happened recently. One of my factory’s technicians was found to be positive (contracted from his brother) and through him, we quarantined 16 other close contacts and shut down the line for disinfection.

“Of the 16, we sent them all for testing (all tested negative) and after which MOH white-banded them all for 10 days since last contact. All went well up to this point.

“On the 10th day, another technician (let’s call him Irwan) informed us that his sister was a suspected case. We instructed him to stay quarantined and not to come to work.

“A day later, Irwan called to inform that his sister was found to be positive and he has to get tested.

“Then, Irwan decided to travel together with two other colleagues (my other technicians) to KKM to get his white band cut (released)”.

At this point, James was quite baffled as to why his technicians have to do things together and not go to KKM individually. Also, why three persons in a car? Isn’t that against the law?

“Two days later, Irwan was tested positive. At this point, suddenly a third person was identified as a close contact — his girlfriend who is also working in my factory.

“Now I’ve to isolate more people”, sighed James.

Our factory manager rightly pointed to the mentality of workers or their tidak apa attitude for causing more infections.  

“Our population does not understand what is physical distancing. Even in quarantine, they take it as paid holiday and can still afford to go dating.”

I think James has a strong point here: “With this kind of mentality, unless all quarantined people are banded, there’s no point in imposing quarantine. It just frees up people’s time to go socialising and get infected or infect more people”.

Then, I told James that he should share his experience with the authorities and this was his response:

“Too many little Napoleons. If I approach them, they’ll fine the company RM50,000 or fine the technicians. Life is already tough enough now. The current MCO does not work well. Still too many cars and people on the streets as opposed to MCO 1.0. I worked through both, can easily see the differences.

“We’re just draining the economy without any results. A supplier is folding by September, another transporter committed suicide due to debt (and funny thing is for companies like mine which is allowed to operate, transport costs go up as there’s a lack of backhaul).

Finally, James reckons that the price of food will rise in the coming months as prices of raw materials are also increasing over the past six months due to global logistics situation.

In concluding, James felt that the first week of MCO 3.0 was a total mistake. Our factory was asked to go down to 60 percent manpower, releasing 40 percent to go on “paid holiday” as shopping complexes etc were open.

“That was a disaster. Imagine how many clusters that had created”.

James’ food-production company employs about 800 workers.

I hope that this sharing has been useful feedback for the authorities. There is always a lesson to learn from the experiences of those, like James’, on the ground.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.