Coronavirus pandemic

5,000 more foreign workers to be tested for Covid-19

Task force outlines approach to testing foreign workers amid spike at dormitories

Tech Park Crescent dormitory, which was identified as a new Covid-19 cluster on April 13, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Foreign workers who are unwell are being identified and separated from other workers, said the multi-agency task force tackling the Covid-19 outbreak, adding that even those who do not show symptoms but are close contacts of confirmed cases are being tested.

It said more than 1,500 workers who have been transferred out of dormitories deemed as isolation areas have been tested over the weekend on top of being screened for symptoms. An additional 5,000 such workers are expected to be tested in the next few days.

Yesterday, the task force gave an outline of the approach to testing foreign workers for the virus amid a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases involving dormitories.

The Ministry of Health's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said in a virtual press conference: "Our commitment to the foreign workers is that if they are infected, we want to find them, and we want to be very clear that we're not intending to leave them alone, unattended.

"So if we have any concerns, particularly in any of the dormitories where there is, in fact, an infected foreign worker, then we want to know where they are and we will make plans to test as many of them as possible."

Work is ongoing to test asymptomatic workers or those with minimal symptoms, Prof Mak said.

But he noted that this was still a targeted approach, as opposed to widespread testing of all workers staying in purpose-built dormitories.

"In some dormitories, we have started work to screen close contacts of confirmed cases. For example, they may be fellow workers who share the same room and, because of their proximity of contact in their living arrangements, are deemed therefore as at higher risk.

"We also have tested various other foreign workers in different settings. For example, for some of the workers that have in fact been transferred out from the dormitories that are deemed as isolation areas, we've also tested as a precaution to make sure that as we transfer workers from one place to another, we're not also then seeding new areas, and therefore... causing more clusters."

He added that the active testing of potential Covid-19 cases in dormitories could lead to a spike in daily reports of unlinked cases, but this does not necessarily imply that there is an unknown source or community transmission.

Prof Mak said swab testing is being done across various dormitories by different teams in different settings.

"It takes quite a while to bring all those figures together, and to match the test results with where these workers come from," he added. "So in fact out of the proportion that are as yet unlinked, you will find over the next few days that the number whittles down progressively as we then link them to existing clusters that may be present, whether in the dormitories or otherwise."


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2020, with the headline 5,000 more foreign workers to be tested for Covid-19. Subscribe