Malaysia Orders Top Glove to Suspend Factory Operations as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Noah Lee, Nisha David and Tia Asmara

2020-11-23
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my-id-covid-queue620 Health officers enter a dormitory for Top Glove’s workers in Klang, Malaysia, on Nov.17, 2020.
[BenarNews/S.Mahfuz]

Malaysia ordered the world’s largest medical glove maker Monday to suspend operations at more than half of its factories after more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections were reported among Top Glove workers in the city of Klang, near Kuala Lumpur.

The government in neighboring Indonesia, meanwhile, said it was considering shortening the year-end holiday season in an effort to minimize travel, as Southeast Asia’s most populous nation crossed the half-million mark for coronaviruses infections.

“The Ministry of Health informed us that there was spike in COVID-19 cases among … factory workers. Today alone, there are 1,067 new infections among Top Glove workers,” Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the senior minister in charge of national security, told a press conference.

He was referring to a daily meeting of key cabinet members and government officials to discuss matters related to the pandemic.

“Based on the advice and risk assessment done by MOH, today’s special meeting agreed that 28 Top Glove factories are to close in stages so as to allow all employees to be screened and undergo the quarantine process.”

On Monday, Malaysia set a daily record for coronavirus infections detected so far in the country. About three quarters of those cases were traced to workers at 28 Top Glove plants in Klang, in Selangor state, officials said. Selangor hosts most of Top Glove's 41 factories in Malaysia.

The increase in infections among the factory workers resulted from targeted tests on those who stay in the company’s dormitories in Klang, where a lockdown was imposed on Nov. 17, said Noor Hisham Abdullah, the health director-general.

“So far, 1,067 cases were detected among workers related to the factories, and the total number now is at 2,524. From this, 2,453 or 97.2 percent of them are factory workers, while the rest are their close contacts,” he said.

According to him, the vast majority of infected workers are foreigners.

Last week, the government said that 1.6 million migrant workers in Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Sabah, Kuala Lumpur and Labuan would have to undergo compulsory COVID-19 swab tests.

In a statement, Top Glove said it would cooperate with the government on its order to suspend operations at the 28 factories.

The company, including managing director K.M. Lee, did not immediately respond to a query from BenarNews about how the temporary shutdown order would affect production when global demand for medical gloves has risen sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, the United States blocked imports of rubber gloves made by Top Glove, citing “reasonable evidence” of forced labor. The U.S. also said the move would not negatively impact glove shipments from abroad.

Indonesia: 500,000 and counting

East Asia’s coronavirus hotspot, Indonesia, confirmed 4,442 new infections overnight, taking the total number of cases to 502,110 nationwide, according to Health Ministry data. It also recorded 118 more deaths from the coronavirus, taking the national death toll to 16,002 – the fifteenth highest in the world.

On Monday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo suggested shortening an extended year-end holiday – scheduled for Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 – amid concerns about the rising infection numbers, said Muhadjir Effendy, the coordinating minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs.

“This is crucial in our efforts to control COVID-19 and make the economy recover as soon as possible,” he said.

The coming holidays include those for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, which fell at the end of May this year but was not observed because Indonesia had then imposed a lockdown.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia, urged the government to postpone local elections, which have been scheduled for Dec. 9 to choose mayors, regency chiefs and governors.

As of Monday there was no sign of the polls being pushed back to another date, but Jokowi urged officials to take necessary measures to prevent the elections from worsening the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Penny Lukito, the head of the Food and Drug Control Agency, said that late-stage clinical trials in Indonesia for a vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac had been completed.

The vaccine was found to be safe, but a further analysis was needed to determine its efficacy, she said.

“Now we are waiting for the results of an analysis to determine its effectiveness so that we can issue an emergency use authorization,” Lukito said.

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