Malaysia says second virus cluster breaks out at migrant detention centres

FILE PHOTO: Medical workers wearing protective suits pass by barbed wire at the red zone under enhanced lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Petaling Jaya

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A new cluster of coronavirus infections has broken out in Malaysia at a detention centre for undocumented migrants, authorities said on Saturday.

Malaysia has this month arrested more than 2,000 foreigners for not having permits that allow them to be in the country following raids in areas under lockdown. The centres they are detained in are often crowded, with dozens of migrants packed in a single cell.

The United Nations and rights groups have called on Malaysia to stop the crackdown and criticised authorities for going after a vulnerable community during the pandemic.

The Southeast Asian country has so far reported 7,185 virus infections and 115 deaths.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 21 cases were identified at the Semenyih detention centre near the capital Kuala Lumpur, which houses around 1,600 detainees.

It is the second detention centre at which a cluster of virus infections has broken out. Around 60 cases were reported among the 1,400 detainees at the Bukit Jalil centre earlier this week.

The ministry's Director-General, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said the source of infections at the centres had not been identified.

The migrants were screened before their arrests, but the virus may not have been detected during the incubation period, he said.

Detainees can spend months in the centres before they are deported.

In recent weeks, there has been public anger towards refugees and other foreigners, who have been accused of spreading disease, burdening the state and taking jobs as the economy plummets. Rohingya refugees in particular have been targets of harassment and threats.



(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and John Stonestreet)