SINGAPORE — More than 21,000 migrant workers living in dormitories have been tested for the coronavirus to date, or one in 15, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (27 April).
This translates to a testing rate of 6,500 per 100,000 persons for these workers, far higher than the rate across Singapore at 2,100 per 100,000 persons.
MOH added that it has been testing close to 3,000 migrant workers residing at the dormitories every day, and will continue to do more tests.
“This aggressive testing regime enables us to determine the extent of infection in the dormitories,” said the ministry. “We started with the dormitories with a higher incidence of infections, and are continuing to test the workers in the other dormitories.”
At a multi-ministry taskforce press conference in which selected local media outlets were invited, Health Minister and taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong also denied reports that MOH has reduced the testing of migrant workers, leading to a drop in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The Straits Times reported that according to Gan, every positive test is added to Singapore's case count.
Over the weekend, infectious diseases expert Professor Dale Fisher of the National University of Singapore told CNA that at some dormitories, the rate of COVID-19 positivity is so high that there is no need to test anymore. Instead, those exhibiting symptoms of clinical respiratory illness in such sites are assumed to have the coronavirus and immediately isolated, Prof Fisher said.
Ramping up testing capacity
The press conference was held on the same day that an additional 799 cases were reported in Singapore, bringing the total to 14,423 – the highest recorded in Southeast Asia.
Last Tuesday, Gan told reporters that before the partial lockdown of the country can be lifted, Singapore will need to greatly increase its capacity to test for COVID-19, in order to ensure that there is no more community transmission.
On Monday, his fellow taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong reiterated the point, but added that testing cannot be a substitute for personal responsibility and safe distancing measures.
In its statement, MOH noted that testing is a “critical enabler” of the country’s fight against COVID-19. In this regard, Singapore’s national capacity to conduct coronavirus tests has been steadily built up - from an average of 2,900 tests per day in early April, it is now able to conduct more than 8,000 tests per day.
Singapore’s testing rate at 2,100 per 100,000 persons is higher than in the US at 1,600 per 100,000, South Korea at 1,100 per 100,000 and the UK at 1,000 per 100,000. “The higher intensity of testing allows us to pick up far more cases than many other countries,” added MOH.
The government has come under fire in recent weeks for failing to take stricter measures earlier to curb the spread of the virus in foreign worker dormitories, which house some 300,000 men, often in cramped and unhygienic conditions. More than 12,000 migrant workers have so far tested positive for COVID-19 to date.
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