Malaysia Plans Repatriation Talks with Singapore as COVID-19 Cases Soar

Noah Lee and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
MY-SG-covid-620.jpg Men line up to get their meals at a dormitory for foreign workers in Singapore, April 19, 2020.

Kuala Lumpur is moving to hold talks with Singapore on repatriating Malaysian workers who have been placed on leave in the neighboring city-state during the coronavirus pandemic, a senior Malaysian government official said Wednesday.

Singapore has seen the number of COVID-19 cases soar past to past 10,000 this week, with health authorities there tying many of the more recent infections to dormitories that house tens of thousands of foreign workers.

Malaysian and Singaporean officials need to meet to determine how many Malaysian workers could be repatriated, said Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

“We have yet to receive the details from [the] Singapore government. We have instructed the Human Resources Minister to hold discussions with his counterpart on whether Malaysians who have been given unpaid leave will return,” he told reporters, according to the state-run Bernama news service.

Ismail Sabri said he and his Singaporean counterpart had agreed that Malaysians, if they were to leave, would come home in stages. He said there had been no mass homecoming so far because factories in Singapore were still operating despite the coronavirus pandemic

“We will plan on how to avoid congestion ... as I mentioned yesterday, we will provide 10,000 rooms at quarantine centers if there is a mass return of Malaysians (from Singapore),” the senior minister said.

Thousands of Malaysians have already returned from Singapore, according to the chairman of the Health and Environment Committee in Johor state, which borders the city-state. Over the last two weeks, 4,783 Malaysians who worked in Singapore have been quarantined after reentering the country.

Across Malaysia, 15,946 Malaysians who returned from abroad have been quarantined since April 3, according to Ismail Sabri.

“The Johor state is viewing this matter seriously and will make sure that health officers and the state immigration department will closely monitor the entry procedure for Malaysians who returned from Singapore through the tight screening process,” state committee chairman R. Vidyananthan said.

On Monday, the Singapore Health Ministry reported that 95 Malaysians working there had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Ismail Sabri.

Singapore reported 1,016 new cases on Wednesday – including 999 who are work permit holders (foreigners), most of whom live in dormitories. Disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States reported the total number of cases in Singapore stood at 10,141, as of Wednesday.

Malaysia reported 50 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, increasing the total confirmed cases since the outbreak to 5,532, and one death, increasing the total to 93.

Globally, nearly 2.6 million infections have been recorded while the death toll stood at nearly 180,000 as of Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

Indonesians in Singapore

Meanwhile, Indonesia has reported that some of its citizens have tested positive for COVID-19 in Singapore as well.

Earlier this month, the Indonesian Embassy noted that most Indonesians in Singapore do not live in dormitories. As of Wednesday, 48 Indonesians were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 and two have died.

“Most of the Indonesian migrant workers work in domestic sectors. They do not live in a dormitory but live with their employers, or they are Indonesian professionals who live in their own place or in a place designated by their office,” said Ratna Lestari, chief of the social and cultural section at the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore during an interview with BBC News.


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