Manhunt in Malaysia as 145 workers flee quarantine

Nerves frayed in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, this week when 145 workers went on the run from a construction site that had seen an outbreak of Covid-19 cases, prompting a police manhunt.

As of yesterday, police had found 11 of the workers, reported to be mostly foreign nationals, but were still searching for the rest.

We want to save their businesses by saving their employees– Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri, Malaysia’s Defence Minister

Their flight on Tuesday, 5 May from the under-construction luxury residential development, Pavillion Embassy, followed the discovery of 28 cases of Covid-19 among some 400 workers at the site. 

That prompted authorities to place the site under a lockdown, termed locally a "targeted enhanced movement control order", in which movement is restricted and residences are checked.

According to one report, the men vanished into the city before the order could be implemented.

"They escaped after the medical team took the swabs and while the police were on their way to cordon off the area," a source told news site Free Malaysia Today (FMT). 

The 28 workers who tested positive – all of them foreign nationals – were immediately sent to hospital.

Those workers who tested negative were placed "under strict quarantine in a hotel", Deputy Federal Territories Minister Edmund Santhara told FMT.

Santhara added that all costs for these measures would be borne by the Pavillion Embassy project’s main contractor and developer.

Meanwhile, fearing a surge in cases among foreign workers – as has been seen in neighbouring Singapore – Malaysia’s government has ordered employers to test all foreign workers for Covid-19, and to pay for it.

In an interview with Singapore’s New Straits Times newspaper, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri appeared to threaten to shut companies’ operations down if even one of their employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

But he added: "If a company takes care of its workers as recommended, its entire operations might not be shut down. The reason we instructed for the compulsory screening is because we want to save their businesses by saving their employees."

The issue of who bears the cost of testing workers has led to friction between the Malaysian government and some in the construction industry.

Soam Heng Choon, president of the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association, appealed to the government to pick up the bill for testing.

He told newspaper The Malay Mail: "The virus outbreak and its severity is unexpected, and it is beyond the financial capacity of contractors to bear the cost especially when contractors are already financially affected by the pandemic."

Image: Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur (Alex Block/Unsplash)

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