Coronavirus: All foreign workers in dormitories to stop work until May 4

The measure to stop work will apply to workers from all companies. ST PHOTO: MARCELLIN LOPEZ

SINGAPORE - All foreign workers currently living in dormitories have to stop moving in and out from Tuesday (April 21) until May 4, including going to work, as the authorities step up measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus among this group that has been hard hit.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Tuesday that the measure to stop work will apply to workers from all companies, even those that earlier obtained licences to operate during the current circuit breaker period.

"This was something that we had planned for, and now we're going to implement it," she said during a virtual press conference, adding that the Ministry of Trade and Industry will notify the affected companies to suspend operations for this period.

"We know that there are going to be some adjustments to be made by the companies, but we seek the cooperation of both the employers and workers on this new condition. It is a necessary measure to minimise the risk of transmissions."

The measure will take effect from 11.59pm on Tuesday, said a Ministry of Health statement. This will apply to all dormitories, including the larger purpose-built ones, as well as factory-converted dormitories and on-site temporary quarters.

Employers must continue to work with dormitory operators to ensure the well-being of workers in the dormitories, including taking care of their food and other daily needs, the statement added.

About 10,000 foreign workers in essential services have moved out of dormitories. They are now staying in alternative locations, such as vacant Housing Board flats, floating hotels and military camps.

Safe distancing measures have been implemented at all purpose-built dormitories to prevent intermingling of workers, and medical posts have been set up so that they can report sick without having to leave the premises.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the circuit breaker period will be extended by another month to June 1.

More workplaces will be closed to further reduce the number of workers keeping essential services going, and access restrictions introduced at places where large groups of people continue to gather, such as at wet markets and supermarkets.

With the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan approaching, Mrs Teo said that the inter-agency task force, set up earlier this month to handle the outbreak in dormitories, has coordinated with caterers and dormitory operators to provide pre-dawn and breakfast meals.

"This is very important to our Muslim friends and we want to ensure they're properly taken care of when Ramadan begins."

With the increasing number of cases involving workers in the construction sector, the authorities announced last week that 180,000 construction work permit and S Pass holders and their dependants have been placed on stay-home notices from Monday until May 4.

Mrs Teo said that her ministry had decided to do this, as contact tracing efforts had suggested that transmissions at common construction work sites may have contributed to the increase in infected numbers.

"So this is something that we have taken as an added precaution, and during the period of the stay-home notice, enforcement officers will conduct regular and random checks."

As of Monday, 28 out of the 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore have known clusters. There are also at least 14 clusters at smaller factory-converted dormitories.

Mrs Teo said that workers have been understanding of the measures that have been implemented, and that she was thankful for their cooperation.

"I think if we are to be able to follow through with this, work stoppages together with the closure of shopping and socialising areas, and coupled with the measures taken at the dormitories, we have a real chance of breaking these channels of transmission, and a real chance of overcoming this hump in order to slowly bring back our recovery measures."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.