Almost all workers in dorms tested for Covid-19 by today

About 90% of the 323,000 foreign workers can return to work by the end of this month

Foreign workers at a dormitory in Jurong last month. Employers have to provide dedicated transport between worksites and places of accommodation as part of enhanced safety measures. All workers living in dormitories will undergo Covid-19 tests every
Foreign workers at a dormitory in Jurong last month. Employers have to provide dedicated transport between worksites and places of accommodation as part of enhanced safety measures. All workers living in dormitories will undergo Covid-19 tests every 14 days. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Almost all of the 323,000 foreign workers staying in dormitories would have been tested for Covid-19 by today, and about 90 per cent of them can go back to work by the end of this month.

This means that many construction activities and projects should be able to resume soon, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.

But with a number of workers still in isolation facilities, the daily number of Covid-19 cases will fluctuate in the next two weeks as they are tested.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the pandemic task force, said the authorities are trying to speed up the process to let workers cleared of Covid-19 return to work quickly.

"We are not only clearing the workers in the dormitories and making sure that they are safe, but we also want them to get back to work as soon as possible," said Mr Wong who, until a recent Cabinet reshuffle, was the Minister for National Development.

"We do expect the vast majority to be able to do so by the end of this month," he added.

He urged employers and contractors to do their part before the workers return by starting preparations to implement the necessary safety measures as soon as possible.

Among other things, employers have to provide dedicated transport between worksites and places of accommodation, with worksites deploying systems such as TraceTogether and SafeEntry to ensure tracking and compliance.

In addition, the housing arrangements are likely to be different.

The task force wants workers from the same employers to be housed together for better management, instead of being dispersed in different blocks.

Mr Wong said the authorities will work with employers and contractors to ensure construction and other high-risk activities will be done in a safe manner.

He also said all workers living in dormitories will undergo Covid-19 tests every 14 days.

"If through routine testing we pick up one case, the intention is to go in very quickly, isolate the workers perhaps within the room or the entire floor even, so that you can pull out the workers who are at risk," he added.

This would help prevent the need for a lockdown of an entire affected block or even dormitory, he said.

Other methods to complement regular testing include monitoring of wastewater for the virus.

"With all these new measures, we hope we can pre-empt, we can identify early, and we can allow construction work, in particular, to resume safely without the risk of large clusters forming," Mr Wong added.

On the final batch of workers in isolation who are waiting to be tested for Covid-19, he had said last month that 28,000 workers will still be isolated in standalone blocks in dormitories that serve as quarantine facilities.

Yesterday, the task force said there is a chance of a high rate of infections among this final batch of workers, which could lead to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Ministry of Health's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the task force is working with the Manpower Ministry on how to continue supporting the workers, even after the outbreak in dormitories is brought under control.

One way he cited is through telemedicine. "We will be looking towards establishing more long-term medical facilities dedicated to supporting the health of migrant workers," he added.

"These may include a combination of medical posts or medical centres either on site or close to the dormitories."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2020, with the headline Almost all workers in dorms tested for Covid-19 by today. Subscribe