COVID-19 SPECIAL

Ensuring swab facility runs like clockwork round the clock

Mr Ang Han Wee (left), swab isolation facility (SIF) project manager for operations at Polwel, which is managing both SIFs for the Government, with operations officer Cheah Shun at the command post at Tuas South Recreation Centre. Migrant workers get
A swab test being done on a worker at the Tuas facility. Some workers may stay at the facility for two or three days while they wait for their test results.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Mr Ang Han Wee (left), swab isolation facility (SIF) project manager for operations at Polwel, which is managing both SIFs for the Government, with operations officer Cheah Shun at the command post at Tuas South Recreation Centre. Migrant workers get
Migrant workers getting a daily check-up at the swab isolation facility at Tuas South Recreation Centre last Friday. To help make their stay as comfortable as possible, Wi-Fi and power banks to charge phones are supplied. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Mr Ang Han Wee (left), swab isolation facility (SIF) project manager for operations at Polwel, which is managing both SIFs for the Government, with operations officer Cheah Shun at the command post at Tuas South Recreation Centre. Migrant workers get
Mr Ang Han Wee (left), swab isolation facility (SIF) project manager for operations at Polwel, which is managing both SIFs for the Government, with operations officer Cheah Shun at the command post at Tuas South Recreation Centre. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Swab tests are crucial in Singapore's fight against Covid-19, and facilities in Tuas and Kranji have been working overtime to test workers for the past few weeks.

One of the two sites is the Tuas South Recreation Centre. Normally a place where workers in the area gather for social and leisure activities in their free time, it started operating as a swab isolation facility (SIF) and medical post on April 27.

Shuttle buses that are regularly disinfected take the workers - spaced out inside the vehicle to observe safe distancing - from the surrounding dorms to the site.

While the numbers vary depending on how many workers call in sick at the dorms, the Tuas site has tested up to 100 a day, said Mr Ang Han Wee.

He is the SIF project manager for operations at Polwel, a police-affiliated cooperative managing both SIFs for the Government.

At Tuas, Mr Ang oversees a team of 14 staff split into two 12-hour shifts, who work round the clock across two multi-purpose halls.

Some of the workers may stay at the facility for two or three days while they wait for their results.

They are housed in a hall spanning about 1,400 sq m, which has safely distanced cubicles with basic necessities such as mattresses, containers for personal belongings and rubbish bins. Its occupancy has ranged from 60 to 90 per cent.

The other hall, slightly larger at close to 1,600 sq m, is for the medical post, where swab tests and other medical care for workers' existing conditions are carried out.

In addition to medical support from a nurse, there are also tablets for tele-consultations with a doctor. Any prescribed medication arrives within two hours.

"We largely function like a concierge. We register workers when they come in, make sure they have what they need and take note of details like dietary requirements," said Mr Ang.

After they have been swabbed, the workers are sorted into three groups kept strictly apart from one another: those who tested negative for Covid-19, those who tested positive and those pending results.

Organising everything is no minor logistical feat, but Mr Ang said his experience in running his own sporting events firm before the pandemic struck has helped.

To help make their stay as comfortable as possible, Mr Ang and his team also set up Wi-Fi and supplied power banks for workers to charge their phones.

Mr Singaram Karthikeyan, 43, an Indian migrant worker who has been in Singapore for six years, said he video-calls his family daily.

"I phone them every day to tell them I am OK. There is a place to sleep, to eat, and I'm not scared. Everything is OK here," said Mr Singaram, who stayed at the Tuas SIF for at least two days.

While the job involves a lot of logistics, there is a very human side to the work they do, Mr Ang said.

One of the nurses who works at Tuas returns even on her days off to offer things like drinks to cheer up the workers, and even clothes for those who need them.

A doctor in charge of the site's tele-consulting service came down to Tuas in person to comfort a worker from 9pm to midnight. The worker had become anxious and distraught after finding out he had tested positive for Covid-19.

These instances are part of what inspires Mr Ang and keeps him motivated. "It's not like a normal job. I find it very meaningful to work with a team of officers, to know that what we do affects lives directly," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2020, with the headline 'Ensuring swab facility runs like clockwork round the clock'. Print Edition | Subscribe