SINGAPORE - Eligible foreign workers staying in dormitories will be allowed to visit recreation centres on their rest days at staggered times from Saturday (Oct 31) to buy necessities, get a haircut and remit money home.
These centres also have food and beverage outlets, mini-marts and communal facilities, and workers can visit only the centre assigned to their dorms.
There are eight such recreation centres across the island - in locations like Kranji, Tuas, Woodlands and Kaki Bukit - that have been built over the years to serve dorm residents.
On average, each centre can accommodate about 300 dorm residents with safe distancing measures in place to limit the spread of Covid-19.
The eighth centre will soon be operational, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday.
The move is one of the measures to ease restrictions for migrant workers safely within and outside dorms.
It comes after a two-month trial run since Aug 24 that allowed selected healthy residents from cleared dorms to visit the centres on their rest days.
The low infection rates in the community and dorms over a period of time also played a part in this decision, said MOM.
To be eligible to visit the recreation centres, the workers must have recovered from Covid-19 and have immunity from the disease, or tested negative recently under the Government's rostered routine testing regime.
Dorm residents have to apply - up to seven days in advance - for an exit pass via the SGWorkPass mobile application to visit their dorm's assigned recreation centre.
The dorm that the workers are living in must also not have any active coronavirus cases.
Workers must also download and activate their TraceTogether app at all times.
There are currently four staggered three-hour time slots between 8am and 8pm for foreign workers to visit the recreation centres on their rest days.
A fifth time slot from 8pm to 11pm will be added from next Monday, said MOM. This is in response to feedback that some workers prefer to visit the centre after their working hours.
The rest days for foreign workers in the construction, marine and process sectors have also been staggered after MOM worked with sector agencies and employers on it.
For many migrant workers, being able to visit recreation centres marks the first time they will be stepping out of their dorms since March this year.
Suicides and attempted suicides reported by the media and documented in videos shared online have renewed concerns over the mental and emotional health of workers, many of whom spent the past few months confined to their living quarters.
On Wednesday, Mr Christopher Koh, director of occupational safety and health unit of MOM's workplace policy and strategy division, said the recreation centre visits initiative is "important for the mental well-being of our workers and to restore a sense of normalcy to their lives".
Speaking at the Tuas South Recreation Centre where journalists were given a tour of the area, he added that staggering the workers' visit days to the centres helps to spread out the load of visitors at the centres, which have a limited capacity.
"If it's back to the old norm where everyone is resting on weekends, there would certainly not be enough capacity in the recreation centres," said Mr Koh.
For Bangladeshi mechanical engineer Sonjon Kumar Dey, 36, the visit to Tuas South Recreation Centre was a much-awaited one, after being cooped up in his room since March.
"We had a tough life the past eight months in the dorm. There was mental pressure (at the time) but here, we can refresh our minds and eat and talk to friends," he said.