SINGAPORE - People calling for restrictions on migrant workers to be loosened as the country progresses towards phase three are missing the larger issues, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng.
Phase three of Singapore's reopening, which begins on Dec 28, is not a return to the pre-Covid status quo, said Dr Tan, who is also Second Minister for Trade and Industry.
He added that now is not the time for people to let their guard down and that the risk of a re-emergence of Covid-19 among migrant workers is "real and significant".
Among the restrictions that will be loosened in phase three, people will be able to gather socially in groups of eight, up from the previous limit of five. Capacity limits for attractions, malls and weddings will also be raised.
Some international media outlets and local non-governmental organisations have said it is unfair for restrictions to still be in place for the migrant worker community, said Dr Tan in a Facebook post on Saturday (Dec 19).
"But they have missed the larger issues," he added.
The risk of re-emergence of Covid-19 among migrant workers is "real and significant".
Dr Tan noted that while 47 per cent of migrant workers living in dormitories had been infected with Covid-19 in the past, more than half have not and remain vulnerable.
To minimise their risk of infection, the Government has been building new dormitories with improved safety standards, and migrant workers have started moving into some of them since October.
Average occupancy rates in existing purpose-built dormitories have also fallen since April to about 60 per cent currently. Migrant workers will also receive the Covid-19 vaccine at no cost, said Dr Tan.
At the same time, other measures such as routine testing every 14 days and the use of contact-tracing devices must remain in place so that new cases can be identified and isolated quickly, he said.
"We know that our measures have been tough on our migrant workers, and we thank them for their understanding and sacrifice," said Dr Tan.
Where possible, he added, restrictions have been relaxed to allow those living in some dormitories to use communal facilities such as the kitchen, gyms and basketball courts.
Some have also been allowed to visit designated recreational centres on their rest days, and work is being done to increase the frequency of such visits, Dr Tan added.
And starting from the first quarter of next year, a new pilot scheme will allow migrant workers to return to the community gradually.
Dr Tan said the Government recognises its responsibility to keep Singapore's migrant workers safe, and to take care of their livelihood and welfare.
"Few countries have done as much for their migrant workers as we have. We provided them with the same standard of medical care as Singaporeans enjoy, at no cost to them," he said.
He noted that despite the scale of the outbreak in the dormitories, only 25 workers have been admitted to the intensive care unit and two workers died from Covid-19-related causes.
Meals, entertainment and counselling services were also provided, and the Government ensured that migrant workers were paid their wages, he said.
"All this took a massive combined effort, with the Government working with healthcare workers, NGOs, charities and community groups," said Dr Tan.
"Some say we have been slow to relax our stringent measures. But the most important thing we can do for our migrant workers is to stay vigilant and make sure their sacrifices are not in vain," he added.
For the population at large, restrictions on group size and venue capacities remain. High-risk venues and activities are still closed, Dr Tan said.
The Government's stringent approach towards reopening is precisely why Singapore can now look forward to phase three, he added.
"If we relax any of these safeguards, we will see new waves of infection," said Dr Tan, who has more than 20 years' private sector experience in the healthcare industry.
On Saturday, Dr Tan and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo met migrant workers at Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong to mark International Migrants Day.
The celebration were led by Assurance, Care and Engagement Group under the Manpower Ministry, in collaboration with more than 20 partners to organise activities for migrant workers at all eight recreation centres across Singapore.
More than 100,000 goodie bags containing hand sanitisers, masks, medical care packs, snacks and toiletries will also be distributed to migrant workers at the recreational centres and at 500 dormitories.
The items were sponsored by the Migrant Workers' Centre, Singapore Red Cross Society, DBS Bank, Dettol, Old Chang Kee and Singtel.