Coronavirus: Foreign workers at Kaki Bukit dormitory told to stay away from work on Monday morning

Truckloads of workers from The Leo dormitory were sent back to the dormitory when they turned up at worksites on Feb 10, 2020. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Many workers at a Kaki Bukit dormitory where a Bangladeshi worker infected with the coronavirus was housed were told to stay away from work by their employers on Monday (Feb 10) amid fears that they too could become sick and infectious.

But the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in an update on Monday evening that there is no need to do so. Those who had come into close contact with the Bangladeshi worker have been quarantined, MOM and the Ministry of Health (MOH) told the Singapore Contractors Association on the same day.

On Monday morning, truckloads of workers from The Leo dormitory were sent back to the dormitory when they turned up at worksites.

The 39-year-old Bangladeshi work pass holder was Singapore's 42nd case of the coronavirus. The Ministry of Health said on Sunday he tested positive for the virus a day earlier, and is now in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).

MOH has, in the past two days, issued quarantine orders to the worker's 10 roommates, eight people who took the same company transport he does, and a project manager at the worksite.

The ministry also assessed that the risk to the rest of the residents in the dormitory is low.

The infected Bangladeshi worker's symptoms first surfaced on Feb 1, and he went to a GP clinic on Feb 3, and Changi General Hospital on Feb 5. He was admitted to the intensive care unit at Changi General Hospital after a follow-up appointment at Bedok Polyclinic on Feb 7.

Before being admitted to hospital, he visited Mustafa Centre in Little India.

MOM said in an update on Monday that, according to preliminary checks, the employer of the worker had acted responsibly, disseminating information promptly to its workers and helping the sick worker seek medical attention.

He was also kept away from the workplace when he was on medical leave, MOM said, and this limited his contact with others.

The Leo dormitory, where the worker lived, was last inspected by MOM on Sept 27 last year and conditions were found to be satisfactory. Subsequent checks by MOM on Jan 30 and Feb 10 showed that cleaning of common areas has been stepped up from once to two times every day.

At the dormitory on Monday morning, pick-ups could be seen dropping off workers who were turned away from their worksites. Many were seen wearing masks, or toting bags of groceries from nearby supermarkets.

Cleaners were also seen disinfecting common touchpoints like the entry turnstiles - a task that is now done every hour, up from twice daily.

"We heard the news only this morning. Some of us are quite scared," said Bangladeshi construction worker Uttin, 31, who goes by one name.

Mr Uttin told The Straits Times that his employer had told him to stay away from work for at least the next two to three days.

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Piling machine operator Muthu Palanivel said that while workers were aware of the virus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, many thought it was the Chinese workers that were more at risk.

"But now there is a Bangladeshi affected, so people now are more afraid," said Mr Muthu, 31. The Indian national did not have a mask with him and used a bandana instead to cover his nose and mouth.

Addressing the fears of workers and their employers, Mr Shaik Mohamed, director of customer services at Labourtel Management Corporation, said: "My colleagues are talking to the workers on the ground, and we issued a note to employers to try and reassure them."

About 4,100 workers live in the dormitory, which has 365 units that can house 12 workers each. Each unit has its own en-suite cooking and toilet facilities.

Only about 200 workers were turned away from work on Monday morning (Feb 10), Mr Shaik said.

Labourtel is part of property and logistics solutions company MES Group, which runs three other dormitories across the island.

Mr Shaik added that cleaning and disinfection efforts have been stepped up at all three since the government issued advisories on heightened hygiene precautions.

The unit at The Leo where the affected worker was registered as staying has also been sealed and will be disinfected, he said.

Another four other workers, understood to be roommates of the affected Bangladeshi, have been quarantined.

The dormitory has a mix of workers from several countries, including Bangladesh, India and China.

Mr S. M. A. Jaleel, founder of MES Group, said the company was doing its best to assist the authorities.

"I think the Government is doing its level best to contain the situation and there should not be any cause for panic," he said.

- Additional reporting by Clement Yong

This article has been edited for clarity.

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