SINGAPORE - From next Monday (Sept 13), all migrant workers living in dormitories here will need to test themselves for Covid-19 regularly using antigen rapid test (ART) kits.
This is in line with a broader push to encourage more people to carry out self-testing, and could signal the long-awaited lifting of movement curbs that have kept workers largely confined to their dorms.
The new mandatory self-testing regimen is on top of the existing rostered routine testing (RRT) that the workers are subjected to every seven or 14 days, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in an advisory to employers on Aug 27.
MOM said testing and detecting Covid-19 cases quickly remain critical to preventing potential infections from spreading widely in migrant worker dorms.
ARTs are more convenient, comfortable, and give faster results than the polymerase chain reaction tests used for RRT, MOM said.
Under the new regimen, workers who are swabbed every seven days must test themselves three days after each RRT appointment.
This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers.
For workers who are swabbed every 14 days, those who are vaccinated must test themselves seven days after each RRT appointment, and those unvaccinated must test themselves on the third, seventh and 11th day after each RRT date.
Workers can carry out the self-tests in their rooms at their own convenience, but must be supervised by MOM's Forward Assurance and Support Teams, the dorm operator or a designated worker in charge of the room. They must then submit their test result using the FWMOMCare application.
Workers are also required to take a video of themselves doing the ART, and must keep the video in their phones for seven days.
Random checks will be conducted, and action will be taken if workers fail to test themselves as required or do not conduct the tests properly, MOM said.
Since Aug 30, workers have been able to collect their ART kits after completing their most recent RRT.
From Thursday (Sept 9), they will receive their self-testing schedules and be notified of their test dates.
The ART kits will be fully subsidised by the Government until further notice.
Dorm operators said MOM has been helping to train workers over the past two weeks to use the ART.
Mr Kong Chee Min, chief executive of Centurion Corporation, which manages eight dorms under the Westlite brand, said his firm supports the new measure, and has more than 85 staff who are qualified to supervise the tests.
All dorm residents have been taught to use the ART at least once, and almost every room has a worker who is trained to be a supervisor.
"While it is more demanding for operators to coordinate and manage, it is not too onerous once the workers get used to it," he said.
Mr Johnathan Cheah, managing director of S11 Dormitories, agreed: "All parties involved understand the importance of self-testing as Singapore prepares for the endemic stage of Covid-19."
Associate Professor Jeremy Lim of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said the new self-testing regimen is a small price to pay if it is tied to a larger plan to allow migrant workers into the community.
He and other infectious disease experts have said that the high vaccination rate among dorm residents - more than nine in 10 are fully vaccinated - makes it hard to justify restricting their movements.
This is especially given the impact that prolonged confinement has had on mental health.
Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said last week that his ministry has plans to loosen these restrictions.
The only thing left is to find a "safe window", he said.
At Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction, which has a factory-converted dorm in Woodlands, eight workers have been trained to use the ART and will guide the company's 150-plus workers until all are able to do the tests properly.
The firm's managing director Edward Wee, 62, said he is prepared to factor the cost of ART kits into the firm's business expenses if he has to pay for them in the long run.
The cost of a Covid-19 outbreak in the dorm is far greater, he said.
Migrant workers interviewed said they are used to getting swabbed and the ART kits are easy to use once they get the hang of it.
Logistics coordinator Asaduzzaman, 35, prefers the ART as there have been technical issues at the RRT centres that have led to long waits for test results. He said: "We can do (the test) and easily get the result... It is a good thing for us."