About 5,000 foreign workers to be tested for Covid-19 in next few days, even those who are well but are contacts of confirmed cases

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

SINGAPORE - 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.

The task force gave an outline of the measures that have been taken in recent days to tackle the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases involving foreign worker dormitories.

It said more than 1,500 workers who have been transferred out of dormitories deemed as isolation areas have been tested over the weekend, and about 5,000 workers are expected to be tested in the next few days.

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 is possible."

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

"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 contributing causing more clusters."

As of Tuesday (April 14), the Manpower Ministry said that all 7,000  essential workers living in purpose-built dormitories have been moved out to other accommodations such as army camps.

There are three types of dormitories in Singapore. The first is the purpose-built dormitories. There are 43 such dormitories that together house about 200,000 workers. These dormitories, which are large and can house between 3,000 and 25,000 workers, were built and designed for communal living.

The second type is the factory converted dormitories. There are 1,200 of these smaller dormitories and they collectively house about 95,000 workers.  These dormitories are typically closer to the workplaces of the workers.

 
 
 
 

The third and smallest type is known as construction temporary quarters or temporary living quarters. 

The Manpower Ministry also has plans to also move out essential workers in factory-converted dormitories, though this has not been done yet. 

When asked yesterday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said her ministry does not have figures for the number of essential workers in other types of housing on hand and will provide an update when ready.

CONTAINING THE SPREAD IN DORMITORIES

Apart from moving out essential workers to other accommodations, the government is also working to contain the spread in dormitories that already have clusters and prevent clusters from forming in dormitories that do not.

Dormitories that already have clusters are locked down, with workers not allowed to move in or out. Workers have to stay in their rooms as much as possible and minimise interactions with other workers, said Mrs Teo. Use of communal facilities like showers are staggered and meals are provided so that use of communal cooking facilities are not needed. Workers are also tested so that those infected can be identified and isolated.

In dorms that do not yet have clusters - 29 of the 43 purpose-built dorms and almost all the factory converted dorms have none - safe distancing measures are also in place.

 
 
 
 

Said Mrs Teo: "While these dorms are not gazetted as isolation areas, we aim to apply the same safe distancing measures so that they are effectively also on lockdown. Likewise, the workers have to stay in the dorms. Within the dorms we enforce strictly the safe distancing measures, which means no more cooking and freely mixing with friends from other housing units."

PATIENTS HOUSED IN SINGAPORE EXPO

Replying to a question on the number of patients housed at the Singapore Expo, Prof Mak said there were 297 patients there as of yesterday. Another 150 to 160 patients will be transferred there today.

"It's steadily building... in fact, would span across several halls. At this point in time, we are planning to use Halls 1 to 6, but we have opened Hall 3 first," he said.

"And as Hall 3 progressively gets filled up to its full capacity of 480 cases... then we would progressively open the other halls as well until we reach our full capacity."