SINGAPORE - Conditions at a foreign worker dormitory in Punggol could have been better maintained while it was being turned into an isolation area, said Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Tuesday (April 7).
Acknowledging challenges at the start, Mr Zaqy told Parliament that his ministry is coordinating efforts to take care of foreign workers at both S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite in Toh Guan, which were both declared isolation areas on Sunday.
He was addressing crowded and unsanitary conditions at the S11 site reported by The Straits Times on Monday. Workers said rooms were infested with cockroaches, rubbish was piling up, and toilets were overflowing.
Mr Zaqy said conditions at the dormitory were found to be satisfactory when the last inspection was done on March 4.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is now working with the Migrant Workers' Centre and dormitory operators "round-the-clock" to ensure hygiene is maintained and food is provided on time during the extended hours of stay by workers, he said.
Workers who had close contact with confirmed coronavirus cases have been separately quarantined, and the Health Ministry has set up medical posts on-site to assess and treat those unwell, who will be relocated and housed separately from their roommates.
"We appreciate the workers' patience and cooperation, and will continue to improve the conditions for the residents of the dormitories," he said.
To date, the S11 dormitory has 13,000 residents with 88 confirmed Covid-19 cases, while the Westlite dormitory has 6,800 workers, with 29 cases.
Toh Guan Dormitory, which neighbours Westlite, was gazetted as a third isolation area on Monday night. It has 4,000 residents and 14 confirmed cases of Covid-19.
The workers living in dormitories gazetted as isolation areas have to be quarantined in their rooms for 14 days, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
During the debate on the Supplementary Budget, Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said many Singaporeans are concerned about the well-being and safety of workers in the S11 and Westlite dormitories.
He noted that the dormitories are densely packed with workers living very closely together, and conditions were still "far from optimal" as of Monday night.
He called on the Government to proactively test workers in dormitories with virus cases, starting with those who live in close proximity to those infected.
In response, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry coronavirus taskforce, said more Covid-19 tests would be conducted for workers in dormitories.
Mr Zaqy said he has visited various dormitories to reassure foreign workers that their welfare amid heightened safe distancing measures would be taken care of.
With the foreign worker levy waived for April and levy rebates, employers should be able to continue to pay their salaries and provide accommodation and food, he said, urging employers to pass on the support measures to workers.