COVID-19: 40,000 migrant workers who live in dormitories cleared of virus – Josephine Teo

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at the live virtual taskforce press conference on 1 May, 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)

SINGAPORE — Some 40,000 migrant workers who live in dormitories have been cleared of the COVID-19 infection to date, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Monday (1 June).

Speaking at a multi-ministry taskforce conference a day before Singapore enters into the post-circuit breaker period, Teo said that the number includes 12,000 essential workers who were moved out of dormitories into short-term accommodation.

“They have been tested, they have been cleared and they have continued to work,” said Teo of these workers.

Another 8,000 who were living in the dormitories have either tested negative or tested positive but have since recovered and been discharged. These workers are now living in dormitories with fellow workers who have also been cleared of the virus.

The remaining 20,000 workers have recovered and have been rehoused at other temporary sites.

The inter-agency taskforce will be giving the first batch of 60 dormitories “cleared status” from Tuesday, meaning that every resident in each block within the dormitory has been cleared of the virus, Teo said.

“So that's very remarkable progress made by the interagency task force to get us onto the recovery phase,” she added.

The first batch comprises three purpose-built dormitories, and 57 factory-converted dormitories and construction temporary quarters.

“In order to facilitate the safe return to work... the inter-agency taskforce has first enhanced the medical support for the migrant workers. We restarted on the program of systematic and regular testing and enhanced health surveillance. And the purpose of these are to enable early detections of any infection and of course, in the case of the cleared workers, the re-infections, and we want to minimise the risk of widespread transmission,” Teo said.

In addition to clearing workers of the infection, the taskforce has also worked with dormitory operators and employers to put in place “safe working, safe living, and even safe rest-day measures” for the months ahead so as to manage the safe resumption of work, according to Teo.

As of Sunday, 32,619 cases of COVID-19 involving migrant workers in dormitories have been confirmed, with 408 more reported on Monday.

Dozens of clusters linked to foreign worker dorms have emerged thus far, with Singapore’s largest cluster of over 2,700 cases linked to S11 Dormitory@Punggol, followed by Sungei Tengah Lodge, Tuas View Dormitory and Jurong Penjuru Dormitory. The four are among the 25 dorms that have been gazetted as isolation areas.

Standards in dormitories, which house about 400,000 foreign workers here, will be stepped up in the coming months, with the aim of reducing density within existing accommodation, said Teo. The government is seeking to create additional space to house around 60,000 workers by the end of this year.

Authorities will also use technology, such as the SG Work Pass app, which will feature a new access code to alert workers if they can leave their dormitories for work.

Teo said that workers would need to see a green code on the app showing that they have been cleared to work, and that their employers were granted approval to resume operations.

Dormitories allow migrant workers to be in the company of friends to cook, eat, relax and pray together, and they are still a practical approach to house migrant workers given Singapore's land constraints, according to Teo.

As such, the housing option is unlikely to change, she added.

“What we’ll need to change however, are the specifications, as well as the management of the dormitories, including the daily living habits of the dormitory residents,” she said.

“The changes will be necessary to better protect the workers from widespread transmission and to strengthen the resilience of the dormitories against pandemic risks.”

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