Coronavirus: Diamond HDB blocks in Taman Jurong to house healthy foreign workers in essential services

The four blocks in Taman Jurong are connected to form a diamond with a courtyard in the middle. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Four vacant Housing Board blocks in Taman Jurong, known as the "diamond blocks", are being refurbished to house healthy foreign workers working in essential services.

In a notice to residents there on Friday (April 17), Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is MP for the Taman Jurong ward in Jurong GRC, said that works are ongoing to refurbish the vacant flats at Blocks 63 to 66 Yung Kuang Road to provide temporary housing for foreign workers, as part of Singapore's national fight against Covid-19.

"Many of these foreign workers are doing important jobs that help to keep Singapore going: cleaners and maintenance workers in our neighbourhoods, those who keep our public transport running, and workers who keep electricity and water flowing to our homes," he wrote.

He explained to residents that these workers need to be temporarily housed away from the existing worker dormitories, while the Government makes every effort to reduce and stop the spread of Covid-19 in their living quarters.

"This will keep these workers safe, which will in turn help all of us stay safe," he wrote.

The four 21-storey blocks, which are connected to form a diamond with a courtyard in the middle, are an iconic sight in Taman Jurong and have been dubbed the " diamond blocks" by heritage buffs.

The 456-unit residential development was built by the JTC in the 1970s, with companies in the industrial zone renting the units to house their employees, including foreigners, and was later handed over to HDB.

With occupancy rates falling after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, HDB decided in 2001 to relocate remaining tenants to other rental blocks nearby, with businesses on the first two floors continuing operations.

From 2009 to 2014, the blocks were used in a scheme which offered low-cost housing to people without permanent homes. In 2015, a year after the last interim housing residents were relocated, the units were spruced up for HDB's Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme. The scheme puts families in temporary homes as they wait for their new Build-To-Order flats.

Mr Tharman said precautions are being taken to ensure that the new temporary housing arrangement is safe for everyone. Just like all other Singapore residents, the workers will do their part by remaining in their flats, except when they travel to work using company transport or buy essentials in the shops at the four blocks.

Police and security officers will be deployed on site to ensure that rules are followed, and there will also be a temperature screening station for the workers when they leave for work and return each day.

Movements in the compound have also been organised so that residents can continue to visit the shops in Blocks 63 to 66.

Besides the Taman Jurong blocks, 21 vacant HDB blocks in Bukit Merah will also be refurbished to house healthy foreign workers working in essential services.

These are blocks previously under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme, which buys back from residents public housing sitting on land with high redevelopment potential for other purposes. The flats were vacated in 2018 but not yet demolished.

Sport facilities which are temporarily closed are also being used to house some workers. SportSG said workers will be progressively moved to ActiveSG sport halls at Pasir Ris, Jurong West, Clementi and Hougang from Friday (April 17).

Strict protocols will be in place to manage the workers' entry and presence at these sport centres, a spokesman said.

The Singapore Sports Hub has also converted the OCBC Arena Halls to temporarily house about 800 foreign workers from Friday, a spokesman said. The public's access to the halls, including the Arena Park, will be restricted.

Foreign worker dormitories have been a growing source of concern during the Covid-19 outbreak, with 19 of the 43 large purpose-built dormitories now having clusters. There are also more than 10 clusters at smaller factory-converted dormitories.

About 7,000 foreign workers in essential services living in purpose-built dormitories have moved into alternative living areas, such as military camps and floating hotels.

Last week, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the outbreak, said during a media conference that the number of workers in each dormitory needs to be reduced so that effective public health measures can be put in place.

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