A pilot scheme to centralise the on-boarding process for migrant workers who arrive here will help smoothen their entry into the country, reassure Singaporeans who worried about how dormitories turned out to be flashpoints of infections during the early phase of the Covid-19 outbreak, and acclimatise arriving workers to health and employment conditions here. Making the pilot scheme on migrant worker on-boarding centres (MWOCs) permanent will also help Singapore to prepare better for the onset of Disease X - the next unknown infectious disease that could cause a future pandemic. Essentially, MWOCs represent the next frontier of Singapore's efforts to preserve the essential role of foreign workers in the domestic economy while preparing for unexpected epidemiological shocks that require arriving workers to be quarantined effectively so that imported cases of any disease do not overwhelm the Singapore healthcare system or undermine local perceptions of those workers, leading to social suspicion and hostility.
The new scheme, implemented since the middle of this month, mandates that all work permit and S Pass holders in the construction, marine and process sectors arriving from higher-risk countries like Bangladesh and Malaysia need to serve the bulk of their quarantine in MWOCs in Punggol, Tengah or Eunos. The four centres - there are two in Tengah - have received about 1,000 workers. A fifth will be set up in Choa Chua Kang, and together, all five will provide up to 7,000 bed spaces. Employers pay up to $2,400 per worker staying at an MWOC, about $300 less compared with previous quarantine arrangements. This is equitable as employers should not have to shoulder an unduly large burden for bringing in workers during the pandemic period.
The easier it is for arriving workers to integrate themselves into the fabric of this country, the better it will be for them to begin contributing to the economy of a nation battling the coronavirus pandemic. The on-boarding process, refined through the MWOCs, seeks to make the best of Singapore's need to remain open to foreign workers even though, internationally, Covid-19 has driven nations to close borders because of the fear of infection from a dreaded disease.
The MWOC initiative draws attention to Singapore's need to be alert constantly to the changing health and economic conditions that govern its relations with the rest of the world. Disease X is one of a dozen deadly pathogens, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Ebola, whose potential to cause a pandemic can subvert the economic trajectories of countries. Much as the experience of Sars prepared the Singapore authorities for what came to be known as Covid-19, the current global devastation should lead to preparedness for Disease X.