Forum: Use rapid testing, swabbing and disciplined segregation to let foreign workers in safely

Barring foreign workers for prolonged periods has a serious impact on both our economy and way of life (Building sector appeals for foreign workers to be let in, May 18; and BTO construction delays spark big rush for HDB temporary housing, May 14).

But Singapore cannot underestimate the increased risks associated with new strains of the coronavirus (Form your own social bubble and stick to it, says NCID director, May 18).

Can we import foreign workers in tightly regulated bubbles, carefully applying current technology and present methods?

For example, foreign workers can board dedicated flights where air crew are equipped with personal protective equipment.

Before embarking, a large proportion of infected passengers can be identified and rejected on-site using antigen rapid test kits, which produce results in 20 minutes.

During their stay-home notice (SHN), these foreign workers should be swabbed frequently (maybe twice a week or more). The key to success is prevention of cross-cohort contact, and removing positive cases from each cohort as soon as possible. Workers should also be offered vaccination during this time.

After their SHN ends, they should remain segregated from their fellow workers for another three weeks to cater for infections acquired during SHN, but be allowed to work within their original cohorts, during which twice-weekly swabbing would continue.

At the end of six weeks, each foreign worker would have been vaccinated, tested negative multiple times and thus be of no higher risk to the community than their counterparts who are already in Singapore.

The costs involved are small compared with having inadequate labour or having to institute a lockdown should an inadequately screened newly arrived foreign worker spark a major outbreak within the community.

Singapore already has the technology and the processes to safely allow in badly needed foreign workers, and it should use disciplined cohort segregation, antigen rapid testing and more frequent swabbing to its advantage.

Lee Pheng Soon (Dr)