Extra vigilance needed for construction sector amid high incidence of positive Covid-19 cases: Lawrence Wong

A man going through a swab test for the coronavirus last month at a regional screening centre set up in a sports hall in Bukit Gombak. About 80 per cent of the 323,000 workers living in dorms here are expected to have recovered from Covid-19 or to te
A man going through a swab test for the coronavirus last month at a regional screening centre set up in a sports hall in Bukit Gombak. About 80 per cent of the 323,000 workers living in dorms here are expected to have recovered from Covid-19 or to test negative for it, by the end of this month.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

The continued high incidence of positive Covid-19 results among workers in the construction sector is a reminder that the Government and stakeholders will have to remain extremely vigilant about managing the risk of infections, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.

This means that the authorities will have to be very rigorous in clearing the foreign workers' dormitories of the virus.

They will also ensure that contractors put in place new management practices to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spread.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force handling the outbreak, said during a virtual media briefing that half of the unlinked cases in the community since the circuit breaker measures were partially lifted last month are attributed to workers in construction or construction-related activities.

Most of the cases were identified through proactive and periodic testing of the workers every 14 days, said Mr Wong.

Two-thirds of the workers tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies, which means they had been infected with the virus some time back.

"This is not surprising, in a way, because we have just come off a period where we have had very high incidence of infection in the entire construction industry," he said.

"We have suspended construction activities for quite some time, and then only now starting to resume some of these activities.

"In a way, we are now picking up some of these older infections as we go about the periodic testing of the workers."

Mr Wong said that clearing dormitories of Covid-19 will take some time, and called for patience.

"We hear, from time to time, contractors asking us to just release the workers, insisting that it is okay," he said.

 
 
 
 

"But we have to take the extra precautions to make sure that the clearance is done rigorously before we can allow these workers to go back to work."

On ensuring that contractors put in place new management practices, he said this is required due to the high-touch nature of construction activities, with many opportunities for interactions.

"Very often, workers (gather) from all over, different areas, and sometimes not just the builders themselves, even architects, engineers, foremen - all coming together, interacting closely on the work site or in enclosed spaces."

Mr Wong said it is important for contractors to have measures such as split-team arrangements and housing arrangements for the workers before work can resume.

He added that the Government has been talking to the industry about the issue and will help contractors get ready for the resumption of construction activities.

About 80 per cent of the 323,000 workers living in dorms in Singapore are expected to have recovered from Covid-19 or to test negative for it, by the end of this month.

In a separate announcement yesterday, the Ministry of Manpower said that as of Monday, about 180,000 workers have been cleared of Covid-19.

Some are waiting to be moved to appropriate accommodation or for safe management measures to be implemented before resuming work.

Yesterday, 384 more dorms were declared clear of Covid-19. They comprise one purpose-built dorm, 345 factory-converted dorms and 38 construction temporary quarters. This means that 625 dorms have been cleared of Covid-19 so far.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2020, with the headline 'Extra vigilance needed for construction sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe