Coronavirus: 'Fast' teams in place at all 43 dormitories to tackle situation

Police officers at the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol on Monday. Each forward assurance support team, or "Fast" team, comprises officers from the Singapore Armed Forces, police and Ministry of Manpower. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Police officers at the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol on Monday. Each forward assurance support team, or "Fast" team, comprises officers from the Singapore Armed Forces, police and Ministry of Manpower. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Each team will have officers from SAF, police and MOM; medical posts set up in the dorms

Teams with officers from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have been deployed to all purpose-built foreign worker dormitories to tackle a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases in these places.

This is one part of the Government's strategy to manage daily needs such as food as well as ensure cleanliness and hygiene at those sites, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said yesterday.

The other part of the strategy is having medical posts in the dormitories to actively test workers, and separating the infected from those who are healthy.

Mrs Teo dubbed the teams forward assurance support, or "Fast" teams, and said each team comprises nine officers from the SAF, police and MOM.

They help to ensure that the workers' meals are delivered on time, and look out for their well-being.

There was a team in place for each of the 43 purpose-built worker dormitories by Wednesday, and they are working round the clock with most of the "initial glitches" resolved, she added.

"Whereas in the past it was always the dormitory operators that took care of these things, I think we have to step in and help (them) because it is an enormous task to be able to implement these changes in a short time," she said at a press conference.

Singapore yesterday reported a record 287 new cases, of which 202 were linked to dormitories.

A fourth dormitory, Sungei Tengah Lodge, was declared an isolation area on Wednesday, which means its residents have to be quarantined in their rooms for 14 days.

 
 
 

The first three to be gazetted as isolation areas are S11 Dormitory @ Punggol, Westlite in Toh Guan and Toh Guan Dormitory.

The experience gained at S11 Dormitory and Westlite ensured that the process of implementing new measures for Toh Guan Dormitory was much smoother, said Mrs Teo.

It now takes an average of two hours across the dormitories for all workers in each dormitory to get their food, and the clearing of rubbish and cleaning of rooms and toilets is now done about thrice a day.

MOM said yesterday that it has cut meal distribution times by an hour at the first three dormitories, where nearly 322,000 food portions from caterers Sats Catering, Neo Group and Catering Solutions have been delivered to more than 24,500 residents.

The next priority is to make sure the same standards are consistently applied to the rest of the dormitories yet to be made isolation areas, said Mrs Teo.

She added that the other priority is to thin out the number of people in each dormitory such that safe distancing measures are effective.

These include making sure workers observe quarantine rules, and leave their rooms only for food or to go to the toilet, she said.

Replying to a reporter's question on whether anything could have been done to avoid having to quarantine thousands of workers, Mrs Teo said "it is not as if we have not done anything" to manage the situation in dormitories.

She recalled how stay-home notices and entry approval for workers returning from China were implemented in January and February, with inspections to make sure they obeyed the rules.

On the decision to quarantine workers, she said: "Given the scale and the complexity of the operations, it was never going to be a trivial decision to implement these measures, where the evidence did not previously suggest they were necessary."

Similarly, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the benefit of hindsight was not a luxury the Government had with the virus moving so rapidly.

 
 
 

He also said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security, will be advising the task force on the issue of dormitories, given the involvement of the SAF and police.

During a visit to the S11 site yesterday, now the largest cluster with 283 cases of Covid-19, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters that about 70 servicemen from Army Medical Services were deployed in the "first tranche" to dormitories.

He said the SAF has given "quite a significant resource" to the nationwide effort in deploying them.

"The morale is high and they understand that this is a crucial task that they are doing," said Dr Ng.

There are now 10 active clusters of infection at workers' dormitories, with five cases linked yesterday to Shaw Lodge, a dormitory near Tai Seng MRT station.

As of yesterday, Westlite now has 49 cases in total, Toh Guan has 25, and Sungei Tengah Lodge has 43.

The other dormitory clusters are Tampines Dormitory, Cochrane Lodge I and II, Kranji Lodge and one in Sungei Kadut.

Foreign workers are also connected to clusters such as the Project Glory construction site, another one in Battery Road, and the Mustafa Centre department store.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2020, with the headline ''Fast' teams in place at all 43 dormitories to tackle situation'. Print Edition | Subscribe