Azmin: Don’t blame factories for virus clusters

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali speaks during a press conference in Shah Alam June 29, 2021. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR: The International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) has maintained that it is unfair to blame the manufacturing sector as the main contributor of new Covid-19 cases, which continue to hover above the 4,000-mark throughout this month despite the reintroduction of a total lockdown nationwide.

Senior International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said based on data obtained from the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), from the 507 coronavirus clusters detected in the country between June 1 and June 23, 195 were linked to the manufacturing sector.

Azmin said data compiled by the ministry showed that the manufacturing sector contributed 9.3 per cent, or 12,872 cases from the total 138,649 detected by the Health Ministry throughout the same period.

“To me, it is unfair (to single out the sector). I don’t blame the critics since they do not have access to the facts (involving the spread of Covid-19 cases in the country),” he said in an interview with the New Straits Times and Berita Harian yesterday.

Azmin said he was aware that the sentiments towards him and the ministry were “very negative” when the country on June 24 logged 5,841 new cases and 30 clusters, 20 of which were linked to workplaces.

“Based on checks with the CPRC, from the 20 clusters, only 12 were linked to the manufacturing sector.

“Clusters emerging from the manufacturing sector contributed 8.85 per cent or 517 cases from the total 5,841 new infections detected that day,” he said.

Azmin also cited another data from the Health Ministry that showed 75 per cent of new infections detected in the country were sporadic, with the rest related to Covid-19 clusters from various activities and sectors.

He said workplace clusters, especially from the manufacturing sector, contributed between five and 10 per cent of the new cases on average.

“Unlike the education and social sectors that are completely shut, there is a possibility of Covid-19 clusters emerging from the manufacturing sector when we allow certain activities, especially those involving goods and essential services, to operate throughout the implementation of Movement Control Order (MCO3.0).

“Whether the possibility is higher or lower must be made based on facts and this is what the ministry wants to stress on,” he said.

Azmin feared that the perception would only discourage factories in the manufacturing and private sectors from conducting mass testing, subsequently preventing the authorities from understanding the actual Covid-19 situation on the ground.

“We encourage mass testing. Why? Based on science and data, all these new cases are asymptomatic. So the best solution is mass testing. When mass testing is done, the number of new cases will also rise. This is simple logic.

“However, the moment you continue to do this (single out the manufacturing sector), I fear that we will discourage the industries and private sector from conducting mass testing,” he said.

He acknowledged that the five and 10 per cent of new cases contributed by the manufacturing sector on average was still a cause for concern.

To address the issue, the government through Miti had formulated and implemented a number of action plans.

This, he said, included the Public-Private Partnership Covid-19 Industry Immunisation Programme (Pikas) to accelerate mass inoculation in the economic sector, subsequently supplementing the implementation of the Covid-19 National Immunisation Programme (NIP).

As of Monday, he said 4,537 companies involving 669,846 employees in the manufacturing sector had registered for Pikas.

The workforce registered with Pikas, he said, accounted for 30 per cent of the total 2.24 million workers in the manufacturing sector nationwide.

“I believe the workforce numbers in Pikas will increase in the coming months, especially after the announcement of assistance under the Pakej Perlindungan Rakyat dan Pemulihan Ekonomi (Pemulih) as announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday.

“We hope to vaccinate 90 per cent of the workforce in the manufacturing sector by September.”

He said he had proposed that the Health Ministry conduct “backward” contact tracing to identify the cause of the infection spread that reflected the actual situation on the ground.

As opposed to “forward” contact tracing, backward contact tracing aims to locate and identify the original person who passed the virus to the person who tested positive for Covid-19.

“I believe this is a proactive measure that can enable the Health Ministry to identify the source of infection and locate the actual source that resulted in the emergence of any Covid-19 cluster,” he said.

Source: New Straits Times


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