SINGAPORE - Singapore is entering its final phase of testing and clearing all foreign workers staying in dormitories of the coronavirus, which could be done possibly before mid-August, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Friday (July 17).
As of Thursday, around 232,000 workers have either recovered or have been tested to be free of the virus. There are about 323,000 workers living in dorms in Singapore.
As the authorities clear the final group of workers, many of whom come from dorms with higher prevalence of coronavirus cases, there has been some increase in Covid-19 cases from this group in recent days, said Mr Wong, who is co-chair of a multi-ministry task force handling the outbreak.
This trend is expected to continue in the coming days, he added during a virtual press conference.
"But the main point is that we are completing the clearance of all the workers in the dorms quite soon. We believe that by mid-August we can complete this work, possibly even earlier than that," he said.
"This is an important milestone - the fact that after the clusters in the dorms flared up, we've had to manage, contain and control the flare up, but now we are reaching the final stretch and are able very soon to complete the clearance of all the workers, all the dorms, and eventually have these workers back at work."
About 94 per cent of Singapore's confirmed coronavirus cases are dorm residents.
Since the start of this month, the daily average number of dormitory residents who have been tested positive for Covid-19 was 192. Since Monday, the average daily number has increased to 284.
Responding to a question on the strategy of clearing dorms, Mr Wong cautioned that there might still be positive cases among this group of workers, even after all of them have been cleared.
This is similar to the case for work permit holders in the community, such as those living in private residences or Housing Board flats, where positive cases have continued to be picked up, despite some of them serving a 28-day isolation period.
Said Mr Wong: "Looking at the 300,000 people in the dorms, after we have cleared all of them, so to speak, we will still commit to do periodic, routine testing of these workers once every fortnight.
"And I would not be surprised at all that we will still pick up positive cases, and many of them may well be older infections, but it may very well happen - just as we are seeing this for workers in the community. I think the same situation will arise later on for workers in the dorms."
Asked why the clearance took so long, the Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said there was a need to isolate workers and ensure those infected do not transmit to others.
"Therefore that careful, calibrated approach towards clearing the dorms to prevent further dissemination of the infection during the clearance strategy has led to a much longer, more spaced out strategy taken by the Inter-Agency Taskforce," said Professor Mak.
In a statement on Friday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that there are some recovered workers who cannot yet return to work even if they are ready, as some residents in their dorms or blocks are still serving their isolation.
"In consultation with the Ministry of Health, the Inter-Agency Task Force has put in place additional decontamination measures to allow these recovered workers to leave the dormitories to resume work safely, without compromising public health.
"This will be implemented progressively over the next week," added MOH.