Pofma issues correction directions to NUSS, CNA, TOC and New Naratif over Tambyah's statements on Covid-19 testing of migrant workers

Professor Paul Tambyah speaking at the NUSS Pre-General Election Forum 2020 on July 3, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Five correction directions have been issued to the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS), Channel News Asia (CNA), The Online Citizen Asia (TOC) and New Naratif, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a joint statement on Sunday (July 5).

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office was directed to issue these correction directions by the alternate authority for the Minister for Manpower.

It is the first time that a mainstream media outlet has been issued a correction direction by the Pofma Office.

The directions were issued for the following:

- A video titled "NUSS Pre-General Election Forum 2020", published by NUSS on July 3 on YouTube

- A Facebook post and video titled "Dr Paul Tambyah reveals MOM's role in outbreak of Covid-19 within dormitories", published by TOC on July 4

- A video titled "TOC GE2020 Livestream - Afternoon session 2 July 2020", published by TOC on July 2

- An online article titled "GE2020: Focus on public health could have been lost in March amid talk of early election, suggests SDP's Paul Tambyah", published by CNA on July 4

- An audio recording titled "An Interview with Dr Paul Tambyah", published by New Naratif on July 5

These materials contained a few statements by Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah, which are false, the statement said.

The four organisations will be required to each carry a correction notice stating that the online content contains false statement of facts.

The statements which were highlighted as false by the two ministries are:

- MOM's email advisory to employers on testing of migrant workers was made without the advice from public health medical professionals

- MOM's advisory stated that employers would lose their work pass privileges if they brought their workers for Covid-19 testing

- MOM actively discouraged the testing of workers

In their joint statement, the Ministries of Manpower and Health stated that the medical management of migrant workers was guided by MOH and its medical professionals, based on the prevailing scientific evidence and local situation.

They went on to explain that on Feb 8, Changi General Hospital(CGH) informed MOH that an employer in the construction industry was sending all his workers to the CGH accident and emergency (A&E) department to be tested for Covid-19 though the workers exhibited no symptoms and were well. They were also asking for memos from the hospital to certify that the workers were not infected with Covid-19 and were fit to work. The hospital was concerned that this would trigger a flood of healthy workers being sent to A&E departments, distracting them from the care and treatment of ill patients who required their attention.

On Feb 12, 2020, MOH, MOM and other agencies jointly issued an advisory to the industry to advise that there was no need to prevent workers who were residing in the dormitory from working if they were not unwell.

Subsequently, the hospitals informed MOH that employers were still sending workers who were healthy for testing. MOH then informed MOM, and a further advisory was sent out on Feb 19 to advise employers not to send their workers who were healthy for testing, so as to ensure that medical facilities and resources were focused on unwell individuals who needed medical treatment. This advice was based on the prevailing scientific evidence at that time and was also in line with MOH's risk-based approach to prioritise testing and care for those who were of high risk.

In the advisories to employers, MOM did not say that employers could not take their workers for testing. Neither did MOM actively discourage the testing of workers. What MOM said was: "Do not send workers to hospitals unless it is a medical emergency. If the worker is unwell, employers should send him to a general practitioner to seek medical attention, who will make a proper assessment on whether the worker needs to be sent to the hospital," the two ministries said in their statement.

They added that the same advice was given to all in Singapore, citizens as well as residents: If unwell, even with mild respiratory symptoms, see a general practitioner immediately, who will decide on the course of treatment.

Details of the corrections and clarifications regarding the statements can be found here.

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