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Some 21,000 migrant workers in dorms tested for Covid-19; Government planning to test wider pool

SINGAPORE — A total of 21,000 migrant workers or about one in 15 of them who live in dormitories have been tested for Covid-19 since the start of the outbreak here, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Monday (April 27).

Some 21,000 migrant workers in dorms tested for Covid-19; Government planning to test wider pool

A scientist processing samples to screen and detect the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus that is responsible for Covid-19 at a laboratory.

SINGAPORE — A total of 21,000 migrant workers or about one in 15 of them who live in dormitories have been tested for Covid-19 since the start of the outbreak here, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Monday (April 27).

“This is far higher than the testing rates seen in other countries like (South) Korea, which is one in 90, as well as other countries like the United States, United Kingdom or even Hong Kong,” he said at a press conference held by the government task force tackling the pandemic. 

The Ministry of Health (MOH) highlighted this point in a press release after the conference, saying that the higher intensity of testing allows Singapore to pick up far more cases than many other countries.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo furnished data on April 14 stating that there are more than 300,000 migrant workers staying at dormitories across Singapore. These housing facilities include 43 purpose-built dormitories, factory-converted dormitories and temporary quarters at construction sites.

While the vigorous testing was going on, about 10,000 workers who are not sick, including those working in essential services, have been moved out of the dormitories. 

They are housed in various locations such as the camp sites of the Singapore Armed Forces, the facilities of the Home Team which comprise the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, floating hotels, vacant public housing blocks and converted sports halls.  

MOH said that the “aggressive testing regime” in the dormitories enables Singapore to determine the extent of infection in these places. 

“Those who are confirmed (to have) Covid-19 will be reported in the daily tally of newly confirmed cases,” MOH said, adding that the tests were first done at the dormitories with a higher incidence of infections.

Over the weekend, infectious diseases expert Dale Fisher had said in an interview with CNA that at some dormitories, the infection rate for Covid-19 is so high that there is no need to test anymore. Once a person has clinical respiratory illness, he is almost certainly deemed to have COVID and is put into isolation straightaway, Professor Fisher said.

At the press conference on Monday, Mr Gan refuted claims that the authorities have reduced the testing of migrant workers, which resulted in the fall in the number of Covid-19 confirmed cases over the past couple of days.

“Let me say that this is not true. Our testing capacity for migrant workers is about 3,000 a day,” he said.

“We have not reduced it. Instead, we have been increasing the capacity of testing of our migrant workers.”

At the national level, Singapore has been “steadily building” its capacity to conduct tests for the disease. 

In early April, there were an average of 2,900 tests a day. Now,  there are more than 8,000 tests a day, with plans to further expand this capacity.

MOH said that to date, Singapore has tested about 2,100 people for every 100,000.

These tests are important because they serve three important objectives, Mr Gan said.

First, the tests allow the patients to be diagnosed so that they can receive appropriate treatment and care.

Second, the tests enable contact tracing to limit and control the spread of the coronavirus.

Finally, the tests allow the authorities to “carry out surveillance” so that they can focus on “high-risk and targeted groups”.

For instance, “targeted testing” is done for selected groups such as essential workers who have moved out of the dormitories, or staff members from nursing homes who have close contact with vulnerable seniors, Mr Gan said.

“We intend to gradually expand testing to a wider pool of essential workers to ensure the continuity of critical functions and services,” he added.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that testing will be particularly critical as Singapore plans for a phase beyond the circuit breaker containment measures, which were imposed on April 7 to limit the spread of Covid-19.

“Eventually, we will want to gradually relax our restrictions as our community cases come down and activities can be resumed,” Mr Wong said. 

This needs to be done in a safe manner without risking new infection clusters from forming, and a key enabler for this is to have a greater testing capacity, Mr Wong added.

“That is why we are ramping up and scaling up our testing capacity — not just doing this with existing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, but also looking at new technologies that might be available including, potentially, point-of-care test kits that can be scaled up more rapidly.

“This capability to ramp up and build up more testing capacity is critical as we seek eventually to resume and restart our economy,” he said.

However, Mr Wong emphasised that testing alone cannot substitute for other important precautionary measures such as safe distancing and personal responsibility. He thus reminded the public to continue to observe these basic precautions and safeguards, to continue to stay home and practise good personal hygiene.

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Covid-19 coronavirus foreign workers dormitory MOH Covid-19 test

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