How HCMC factories get possible Covid-positive people to work safely

By Le Tuyet   March 13, 2022 | 09:26 pm PT
How HCMC factories get possible Covid-positive people to work safely
A worker welds metal at Dai Dung Company in HCMC's Binh Chanh District. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong
Factories in HCMC are devising safe ways for people who have come into contact with Covid-19 patients to keep working as they scramble to meet delivery deadlines.

The Ministry of Health recently proposed that both Covid-19 patients and close contacts can go to work under certain conditions.

According to the proposal, factories must set up a well-ventilated and dedicated working area for letting Covid close contacts work on site.

They must ensure safe distance between workers and comply with other Covid prevention measures including conducting PCR or rapid testing every five days or whenever employees display symptoms.

The proposal was made in the context of many workers contracting Covid with mild symptoms, and few close contacts going on to get infected with the virus later.

However, even before the ministry’s latest proposal, many factories in HCMC had put close contacts back to work at the end of last year, allowing businesses to deal with labor shortages.

Last November, the HCMC Department of Health allowed businesses to have 80 percent of their vaccinated employees vaccinated or close contacts who’d gotten two vaccine doses to return to work.

The close contacts were tested on the third and seventh days, and every seven days thereafter until the facility had no Covid infection left. Workers had to make health declarations daily and get tested on showing Covid symptoms.

Nguyen Van Hung, labor union head of construction materials manufacturer Dai Dung Company in Binh Chanh District, said the factory maintained periodic rapid testing and detected on 70-80 cases per week. The number of close contacts was three times higher.

At one point, nearly 30 percent of more than 1,000 employees had to miss work.

"Amids the ensuing labor shortage, the management board intended to return to the 'three-on-site' model since we had to meet production deadlines," Hung said.

But they also noticed that the rate of close contacts becoming Covid patients was very low; and the majority of cases had mild symptoms and recovered quickly.

At the same time, the city's health department issued a protocol for factories to follow when a Covid-19 case was discovered and set conditions for letting close contacts return to work.

After long consultations with employees, the company devised a plan to allow close contacts to return to work.

When employees became Covid close contacts, the factory conducted rapid testing and monitored their health for at least seven days.

Every day, the factory medical team compiled a list of close contacts, notifying each area so that people in that unit are aware of the need to comply with prevention measures. The area designated for close contacts was disinfected on a daily basis.

The factory was able to resume its normal production after three months of implementing these steps. The number of new infections at workplace didn't increase.

A worker is seen at Thanh Cong Textile Garment Investment Trading in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

A worker is seen at Thanh Cong Textile Garment Investment Trading in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Change of plans

Similarly, the Thanh Cong Textile Garment company in Tan Phu District’s Tan Binh Industrial Park, which employs over 4,400 people, has arranged for F1 employees to work on site normally for the past three months.

Nguyen Huu Tuan, the company's human resources director, said the factory had also recorded a high number of infections after the city reopened late last year. There was a time when the entire production line got shut down due to rising numbers of Covid patients and close contacts.

"Our company's production cost rose when we had to pay at least 70 percent of the salary to workers could not work because of Covid. And we struggled to meet order deadlines."

Furthermore, some Covid close contacts did not want to stay at home because they didn't feel ill at all.

Faced with this situation, the factory altered its plans and let close contacts resume work.

If a worker was identified as a first generation infection coming into close contact with an F0 at the factory, she or he could still go to work if vaccinated with two doses and wears a mask.

Higher-risk cases were tested more frequently and needed to have their health monitored. Only close contacts who live in the same house with a Covid patient and cannot be quarantined separately had to temporarily stop working.

"By doing this, the company's production was secured, especially during a time of labor shortage," Tuan said.

Currently, approximately 80 percent of employees at the Thanh Cong factory have received three jabs, so the company is boldly letting more close contacts return to work. Je added.

Still careful

Covid close contacts have been divided into three groups by sewing machine producer Juki Vietnam in District 7.

Close contacts are allowed to return to work only if they came into brief contact with Covid patients at the factory. However, they have to furnish negative test results and the close contact group will work and eat separately.

If a close contact is living with a Covid patient who is a family member, he or she can return to work after five days as long as he/she has received all three jabs, is not sharing a living area with the patient and has a negative rapid test result in hand.

Meanwhile, Japanese firm Nidec Vietnam in Thu Duc City, has divided close contact workers into low and high risk groups.

Close contacts living in the same house with Covid patients are put in a high risk group. They must take a 5-day break and can return to work with negative rapid test results.

Low risk close contacts can go to work as usual but must keep their masks on, have their health monitored and test negative for the virus on the third day after making contact.

According to the Ho Chi Minh City Export Processing and Industrial Zones Authority (HEPZA) Business Association, the city's 18 industrial parks and export processing zones employ over 350,000 people, nearly all of whom have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. It said most factories were eligible to arrange for close contacts to return to work.

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