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Covid-19: Testing of migrant workers in Singapore to be tightened, delays to building projects expected

SINGAPORE — Migrant workers will have to undergo a stepped-up testing regime as the authorities here are taking extra precautions for workers who have already recovered from Covid-19.

Personnel in protective garment usher a group of migrant workers to take a bus to a government quarantine facility after workers were tested positive for Covid-19 at Westlite Woodlands dormitory in Singapore on April 22, 2021.

Personnel in protective garment usher a group of migrant workers to take a bus to a government quarantine facility after workers were tested positive for Covid-19 at Westlite Woodlands dormitory in Singapore on April 22, 2021.

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  • From April 29, all recovered workers in dormitories and certain workers from a few industries will have to undergo rostered routine testing again
  • All newly arrived migrant workers from higher-risk countries and regions will also have to undergo extra tests and isolation measures
  • The Government’s task force said to expect delays in construction projects as these stricter measures are rolled out

 

SINGAPORE — Migrant workers will have to undergo a stepped-up testing regime as the authorities here are taking extra precautions for workers who have already recovered from Covid-19.

And given the emergence of new variants of concern here and around the world, plans to ease the restrictions on the movements of dormitory residents will have to be put on hold, the Government said.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement on Thursday (April 22) that it, along with the Ministry of Manpower, have reviewed the latest scientific evidence from the cohort of recovered persons in Singapore nearing one year from the date of infection and found that the evidence suggests a possible gradual decrease in their antibody levels.

“Immunity in recovered persons can wane, and caution is required around the infection risks in recovered persons,” the ministries said.

And so from April 29, all recovered workers who stay in dormitories, as well as workers from the construction, marine and process industries who have crossed 270 days from the date of their coronavirus infection, will be enrolled back into the rostered routine testing scheme.

This will also include workers who have completed their vaccinations.

Those undergoing rostered routine testing have to complete a swab test every 14 days.

With the emergence of new variants of concern around the world, all newly arrived migrant workers from higher-risk countries and regions — including those with a positive serology result for past infection — will now have to serve stay-home notices at a dedicated facility before being put up at the Migrant Workers Onboarding Centre for another testing regime.

They will have to take Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests before they exit the onboarding centre.

Those suspected of re-infection will be isolated and will have to undergo repeat PCR tests to monitor the trend of their viral loads, to ensure that such cases are detected promptly, MOH and MOM added.

In December, the Government said that it was planning to roll out a pilot in the first quarter of this year to relax restrictions on the movements of migrant workers, including allowing them to be in the community once a month.

When asked about this during a press conference by the Government’s Covid-19 task force on Thursday, Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said: “We did plan for some easing of the restrictions but given that today we have got new variants of concern… we have decided to put it on hold for a while.

“We hope that you can help us garner support and patience from the migrant workers and from the employers towards our measures, and we will do everything possible in a very careful, measured and calibrated way once the numbers are down again.”

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DELAYS TO CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

The authorities also announced that from the start of Saturday, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history, including transit, to India within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore until further notice.

This will also apply to all those who had obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.

The tightened Covid-19 border and testing measures come in the wake of a rapidly deteriorating situation in India, where a new virulent strain of the coronavirus known as the “double mutant” variant has taken hold.

While there is still no evidence that the recent cluster of cases at Westlite Woodlands dormitory on Wednesday is linked to the new strain, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who is co-chair of the task force, said at the press conference he is aware that the new restrictions will have an impact on construction projects.

“Many local small- and medium-sized enterprises and contractors will be badly impacted, and the Government will be looking at providing additional support measures to help these companies,” he said.

“We are reviewing to see what the support measures will be and we will announce them when ready," he added.

“For the construction sector, in particular, they have already experienced delays in building and housing projects. With this additional restriction of workers, there will be further delays in projects.

“So I seek Singaporeans’ patience and understanding. If certain projects will be delayed further, please understand why this has happened and know that we are doing this because of public health reasons and we have to make this additional measure.”

Posting on Facebook, National Development Minister Desmond Lee similarly noted that the slowdown in the inflow of workers could mean construction firms facing challenges meeting deadlines.

"We know this will impact the sector and will announce support measures soon. We will work closely with the trade associations in the built environment sector to support firms through this period and help them with transformation."

Mr Lee recognised that for property buyers, they will also be concerned about the possibility of further delays in the completion of their new homes, offices and commercial spaces.

"We will work with the Housing and Development Board, private developers and construction companies to see how their projects can be safely brought back on track," he said.

'NEW PHASE' IN FIGHT

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post on Thursday that the cluster of infections at Westlite Woodlands dormitory is a reminder that the fight against Covid-19 has entered a new phase.

Referring to measures such as rostered routine testing as well as the testing of wastewater from dormitories, Mrs Teo stressed that it was because of these precautionary actions that the latest cluster was detected. 

She added that the authorities will “swiftly dial up the measures” when it is necessary.

At the same time, she noted that at every dialogue that she holds with business associations, employers have been asking for the inflow of migrant workers to be expanded.

“I understand the pressures on businesses and have explained the need for caution. The last thing we want is to take one step forward and two steps back,” she said.

“We are grateful for the continued support of employers and are actively looking at ways to provide them with further assistance.”

Related topics

foreign workers Covid-19 coronavirus rostered routine testing construction MOM

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