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Early detection, contact-tracing, isolation to contain Covid-19 spread at foreign worker dorms: Inter-agency task force

SINGAPORE — The authorities are working to contain the spread of Covid-19 at foreign worker dormitories through a strategy of early detection and diagnosis, contact-tracing, and quarantine, the inter-agency task force looking into the issue said on Tuesday (April 14).

Early detection, contact-tracing, isolation to contain Covid-19 spread at foreign worker dorms: Inter-agency task force

In total, eight out of the 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore have been gazetted as isolation areas so far.

SINGAPORE — The authorities are working to contain the spread of Covid-19 at foreign worker dormitories through a strategy of early detection and diagnosis, contact-tracing, and quarantine, the inter-agency task force looking into the issue said on Tuesday (April 14).

Brigadier-General (BG) Seet Uei Lim, who leads the joint task force on worker dormitories, said during a media briefing that about 7,000 foreign workers who are working in essential services, such as in the energy sector, waste management and seaports, have been moved out of the dormitories so that they can keep working in order to minimise disruption to these services.

They have been moved to 18 locations around Singapore, such as army camps, repurposed Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats, as well as premises operated by Sport Singapore.

BG Seet, who is also the Chief Guards Officer in the Singapore Armed Forces, said that these workers have been screened and have no symptoms.

More than 1,500 of these workers have been tested over the past weekend, with around more 5,000 workers expected to be tested in the coming days, said Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Health Ministry.

In total, eight out of the 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore have been gazetted as isolation areas so far. This means that the workers must remain at the dormitories.

These dormitories are:

  • S11 Dormitory in Punggol

  • Westlite Toh Guan dormitory and Toh Guan Dormitory near Jurong East

  • Sungei Tengah Lodge in Chua Chu Kang

  • Acacia Lodge in Bukit Batok

  • Cochrane Lodge 1 and 2 in Sembawang

  • Tampines Dormitory

Covid-19 cases among foreign workers have surged in recent days. For example, the S-11 Dormitory in Punggol had a total of 586 confirmed cases as of Monday, making it the largest cluster of infections here.

Within the isolated foreign worker dormitories, medical posts and isolation facilities have been set up, and entertainment packages have been given out to the workers, who also have access to the internet provided by the Government, along with other welfare provisions, BG Seet said.

Care packages comprising hand sanitisers, thermometers and reusable masks have been given to them.

BG Seet said that the task force plans to extend similar support to all dormitories in Singapore and is working closely with the dormitory operators to ensure enhanced environmental sanitation and to raise the level of individual hygiene through education.

“We will continue to implement circuit breaker measures across all 43 dormitories and we intend to meet the welfare needs of our foreign friends,” BG Seet said.

“Ramadan is coming, and we are working with Muis (the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) to meet the needs of our Muslim friends. We will also implement our medical strategy with the Ministry of Health (MOH), increase our touch points with the dormitories, and are proactively case-finding to break the chain of infections and raise commercial healthcare resources… to enhance medical support.”

The inter-agency task force consists of MOH, the Ministry of Manpower, the Singapore Armed Forces and the Home Team. 

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, speaking at a press conference after the briefing, said that no Covid-19 clusters have been detected so far at 29 of the 43 purpose-built dormitories.

“Our aim is to prevent more clusters from forming,” she said. “All (workers) in these dormitories who are tested positive and their close contacts would already have been isolated.”

She added: “While these dorms are not gazetted as isolation areas, we aim to apply the same safe distancing measures so that they are effectively also on lockdown.”

Some foreign workers do not live in the 43 purpose-built dorms. They live in about 1,200 factory converted dormitories as well as other temporary quarters near worksites. So far, 37 of these facilities have confirmed Covid-19 cases.

These are regulated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and other agencies, and more than 600 inspections have been carried out so far.

By the end of Tuesday, all 1,200 factory converted dormitories will have been inspected, Mrs Teo said.

“When we go out to do the inspections, the protocol has also changed. Whereas in the past, the inspectors will look at the hygiene and fire safety standards being met, now they look at the well-being of the workers in these dormitories,” she said.

“For example, they are required to perform twice-daily temperature taking and (operators) are required to inform us if anyone is unwell.”

Ms Shirley Lim, director of operations group at MOM, said that initially, in some cases, food may not have been catered to the workers living there, though many operators of these accommodation facilities have now done so. 

“We have checked on their well-being and make sure they continue to receive a salary, even during this period. We only found minor lapses… and these tend to be the provision of security and cleanliness. We have already told the operators to rectify this and will be inspecting the dorms again to make sure that the advice is followed,” she said.

When asked by the media, MOM's permanent secretary Aubeck Kam said that other workers who live in smaller accommodation facilities which are not purpose-built or factory-converted dormitories are also subject to checks on whether they follow the safety guidelines. The task force reports to Mr Kam.

For those living in rented apartments, Mr Kam said that unlike those in dormitories, these workers enjoy freedom similar to other households in Singapore, and are likewise also advised to stay at home during the circuit breaker period.

“What is different during the circuit breaker is, just like every other household, they are advised to stay at home unless they have a reason to venture out to perform essential services or seek essential services. These workers are not without the ability to come forward if they face difficulties and as I said earlier, our doors are open and we still do receive enquiries from these workers,” Mr Kam said.

Related topics

Covid-19 coronavirus foreign workers contact tracing

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