Malaysia confirms 35 COVID-19 cases at immigration detention centre


Malaysian authorities have announced on Thursday that they had detected a coronavirus cluster at the main immigration detention centre in Kuala Lumpur after 35 detainees–half of whom were from Myanmar- tested positive for COVID-19.

This is the first case of COVID-19 infection in Malaysia’s immigration detention centre.

Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia’s director-general of health said hundreds of foreign detainees at the centre were tested. The infected ones consisted of 17 Myanmar nationals, 15 Indians, a Bangladeshi, a Sri Lankan, and an Egyptian.

“I would like to inform you that there is a new cluster detected at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Depot. Until noon on May 21, 2020, around 645 individuals had their samples taken. From there, 35 tested positive, 400 tested negative while 210 more are still awaiting results,” he told reporters during a daily COVID-19 briefing.

Authorities have implemented measures to contain the outbreak at the centre, including disinfecting the site, and ensuring that people housed there practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently, Noor said.

Malaysia has 14 detention centres, which can accommodate some 13,000 detainees. The Bukit Jalil facility has the capacity to hold 1,500 people, according to two Malaysian immigration officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The 35 who tested positive had stayed at the centre since before Malaysia imposed a COVID-19 lockdown, known as the Movement Control Order (MCO), on March 18, and they were not tested for the virus before first entering the facility, according to Noor.

The Ministry of Health announced the cluster of infections two days after Myanmar said that at least five of its nationals had tested positive for the virus after being deported from Malaysia.

Last week, Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a Facebook post that 391 Myanmar migrant workers had been expelled from Malaysia.

Malaysian authorities were still investigating the source of the infection at Bukit Jalil, Noor said.

Malaysia’s policy on rounding up migrants in the name of curbing the spread of the virus during the health crisis has been widely criticized.

On Thursday, Felipe González Morales, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, added his voice to the criticism.

“I am alarmed by what is happening in Malaysia after the initially positive attitude of the government towards an inclusive response to the pandemic,” he said.

“The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” he added, referring to xenophobia directed at migrants.

During the pandemic, members of the Rohingya refugee community in Malaysia have been targets of hate speech on social media in the country.

“We urge the Malaysian authorities to refrain from raiding locked-down areas to arrest and detain migrants.”

On Thursday, Malaysia reported 50 new coronavirus infections, bringing the nationwide total at to 7,059. No new deaths were reported, but 114 people in the country have died after being infected with COVID-19.

More than 5 million cases have been detected worldwide resulting in close to 330,000 deaths, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. (Source: RFA)