SINGAPORE - New Covid-19 cases in dormitories previously cleared of the virus were picked up mainly through active surveillance testing and aggressive contact tracing, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.
Since the dormitories were declared cleared nearly a month ago on Aug 11, there have been an average of 45 workers testing positive for the coronavirus daily, the ministry shared in a press release on Wednesday (Sept 9).
Workers who previously tested negative for Covid-19 and are staying in these dormitories are susceptible to catching the virus, it added. New cases may arise among them.
The statement comes in the wake of cases of Covid-19 infections surfacing among the cleared dormitories.
These were detected primarily through active surveillance testing, such as rostered routine testing (RRT), and through aggressive tracing and testing, whenever a new case is detected.
About 2 per cent of these newly detected cases had positive serological tests, which indicate past infections.
To detect new dormitory cases and contain infections quickly, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has put in place a "multi-layered strategy".
First, to prevent large clusters from forming, “Safe Living, Safe Working and Safe Rest Day” measures have been implemented in the dormitories.
Before dormitory residents are allowed to return to work, the dormitory operators have to implement various physical distancing measures to limit inter-mixing of residents across rooms, levels and blocks, as well as when using common facilities and during transport to and from worksites, said MOH.
"Dormitory operators must also monitor their residents' health and take necessary precautions, so that residents who are unwell are quickly isolated and provided with medical treatment," said the ministry.
Second, to detect new cases quickly, MOM has taken a number of steps, including having workers monitor their health status regularly. Those who report sick at medical posts with acute respiratory illnesses are closely observed.
Wastewater at selected dormitories is also tested for traces of the virus, and RRT conducted for residents every 14 days.
The MOH said the RRT in particular has helped to pick up new Covid-19 cases in the dormitories.
"It is therefore critical for employers to enrol all their workers who are required to be tested under the RRT," it added.
Finally, if a new case is detected, the close contacts will be isolated. They must be tested negative at the end of their quarantine period before they can return to work.
Aggressive testing operations will also be done within the dormitories based on an assessment of the risk of potential spread.
Meanwhile, the MOM will continue to adjust this strategy as new insights are gained about how the virus spreads.
Separately, to enable more people to return to their workplaces safely, the MOM is also working with tripartite partners on the next phase of safe management measures.
"As we gradually resume more economic activities, many employers have sought guidance on ways to enable more employees to return to the workplace safely so as to better support work and business operations," said the MOH, adding that the risk of Covid-19 transmission increases with greater interaction at the workplace.
"Therefore, it is critical that employers implement their safe management measures seriously, and ensure that safe distancing is adhered to."
In addition, employers need to implement flexible workplace hours, so that "a good part of workers are able to travel off-peak".
This would help to mitigate the risk of crowding, said the MOH.
“It is in the interest of the employers to protect your workers against the risk of Covid-19. Otherwise, if a cluster is formed at the workplace, it would disrupt business severely.”