Coronavirus: Dorm operators say curbs tough but needed for workers' safety

Above: Migrant workers returning yesterday to the Westlite Toh Guan dormitory. Some 6,800 of them have been told to stay in their rooms for 14 days. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH Left: Workers at the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol yesterday. It has 63 virus cases. W
Migrant workers returning yesterday to the Westlite Toh Guan dormitory. Some 6,800 of them have been told to stay in their rooms for 14 days. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Tough, but necessary - that was the consensus among dormitory operators on restrictions announced yesterday to control the local spread of the coronavirus at foreign worker dormitories.

Under the new rules, all foreign workers cannot leave their dormitories from tomorrow.

S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite in Toh Guan - which both saw spikes in Covid-19 cases - will also be designated isolation areas, which means workers living there will be quarantined in their rooms for 14 days.

Mr Calvin Lim, general manager of dormitory operator Capital Development, told The Straits Times that the measures are "necessary, to ensure the safety of the workers".

"Whatever has to be done, we will do it," he said.

Mr Lim's firm operates a dormitory in Tuas that houses about 11,000 workers, and another dormitory in Toh Guan with about 4,000. The latter is a three-minute walk from Westlite Toh Guan, which is now a cluster of 28 confirmed coronavirus cases after 10 more cases were linked to it yesterday.

Asked if he was worried about the proximity to the Westlite dormitory, Mr Lim said he was not overly concerned. His Toh Guan dormitory has five confirmed cases, all of whom are in hospitals.

Asked if special attention would be paid to other dormitories near the two newly designated isolated areas, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday said at a press conference that the Government is monitoring every dormitory and reviewing whether further measures are required.

If another dormitory sees a spike in cases like the Westlite facility in Toh Guan, it could be designated an isolation area as well, she added.

There were two new Covid-19 clusters at Tampines Dormitory and Cochrane Lodge I in Admiralty yesterday, and another new cluster at a construction site at 6 Battery Road.

Operators told ST that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had discussed the new measures with them in advance on Saturday, after three dormitories - Sungei Tengah Lodge, Toh Guan Dormitory and Cochrane Lodge II - were announced as clusters.

 
 
 

Among the concerns they raised were transportation and cooking areas within dormitories, both of which involve close person-to-person contact.

TS Group chief executive Shamkumar Subramani, which manages housing in Tuas and Bukit Batok, said MOM had sought the feedback of operators like him to make sure precautions were taken.

Mr Lim, for example, suggested using the self-disinfecting coating that was recently applied to lift buttons at all Housing Board blocks at similar "high-touch" areas in dormitories.

For Mr Shamkumar, the virus spreading among workers within dormitories was unavoidable. "They are spread out everywhere at worksites and other places, so there is a high chance of them getting it from Singaporeans and other workers. The dispersal is too big," he said.

The Bangladesh community has been anxious about the situation, with the spike in number of foreign worker cases. Mr Ahmed Amad, 31, said he received several calls from his fellow countrymen.

"I told them not to worry, and to take care and follow the rules. The Singapore Government will protect us," said Mr Ahmed, who is also a Migrant Workers' Centre ambassador.

 
 

The Bangladeshi, who has been in Singapore for 11 years, is a safety officer in the medical sector.

He may be one of a "small minority" of foreign workers in essential services, whom the authorities yesterday said would be housed separately from others, such as in vacant HDB blocks and other facilities.

"We want to give the foreign workers the assurance that these measures are taken in their interests, as well as their well-being," Mrs Teo said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2020, with the headline 'Dorm operators say curbs tough but needed for workers' safety'. Subscribe