Coronavirus: MOM working with dorm operators to resolve issues

Far left: Workers queueing for food at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory yesterday. The dormitory was one of two gazetted as isolation areas on Sunday. Left: Cleaning being carried out at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol yesterday. The dormitory was also gazetted a
Workers queueing for food at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory yesterday. The dormitory was one of two gazetted as isolation areas on Sunday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF MANPOWER
Far left: Workers queueing for food at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory yesterday. The dormitory was one of two gazetted as isolation areas on Sunday. Left: Cleaning being carried out at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol yesterday. The dormitory was also gazetted a
Cleaning being carried out at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol yesterday. The dormitory was also gazetted as an isolation area. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

Premises are being cleaned and food and meal times sorted at the two foreign worker dormitories that were gazetted as isolation areas on Sunday.

Giving an update last night, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it is working with the dormitory operators to resolve issues.

The S11 Dormitory @ Punggol in Seletar North Link and Westlite Toh Guan dormitory in Toh Guan Road East were designated isolation areas on Sunday following large numbers of residents falling ill with Covid-19.

The Straits Times reported workers at S11 Dormitory describing the premises as crowded, unsanitary, infested with cockroaches and with overflowing toilets.

Some also said there were no safe distancing measures when they queued for food, and that meals were served late.

S11 Dormitory @ Punggol has 13,000 residents and Westlite has 6,800 migrant workers.

They have 88 and 29 confirmed Covid-19 cases respectively to date.

Last night, a third dormitory - Toh Guan Dormitory in Toh Guan Road East - was also gazetted as an isolation area. It has about 4,000 workers. This is to protect them as well as the wider community from infection. The dorm had 14 confirmed cases as of noon yesterday.

In an update yesterday on the condition of the dormitories, the ministry said its officers have been working round the clock with the operators. "We acknowledge the challenges at the start," it said, adding that it appreciated the workers' patience and cooperation.

On hygiene, MOM said cleaning has been intensified to cope with how washrooms are now being used more often, and how there is now more trash. The workers have also been encouraged to keep the common areas clean.

The ministry said it will monitor conditions and intervene if needed.

On food, it noted that the workers had previously been able to cook their own meals. To minimise the risk of unknown transmissions through workers gathering at common kitchens, food is now catered.

"We experienced teething problems with the portions, suitability and distribution," the ministry said, adding that these issues have been progressively resolved.

Multiple professional caterers have been engaged to ensure residents get three proper meals a day. To date, the caterers have delivered over 65,000 portions of food and snacks, the ministry said.

It added that gazetting the dorms was an enormous undertaking, to protect the health and safety of the workers as well as the community. This also built on precautions that had been progressively implemented at dormitories since the outbreak of Covid-19.

The operator of S11 Dormitory did not reply to queries from The Straits Times about conditions there.

But in a statement yesterday, S11 Dormitories managing director Johnathan Cheah said he had added 10 more cleaners to the Punggol site and "the situation has vastly improved over the past 24 hours".

Earlier, MOM told The Straits Times that the Punggol dormitory was last inspected on March 4 and found to be clean.

One of the residents there, Mr Venkate S.H., 34, said yesterday that he and about 20 workers had washed the toilets and cleared trash on the level they are staying in.

He said there appeared to be more police officers in the dormitory yesterday. "They were telling workers to keep a distance. The crowd was more orderly and standing not too close to one another," said Mr Venkate.

Another worker said he and the others have each been given a reusable mask, a small bottle of hand sanitiser and a thermometer.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: MOM working with dorm operators to resolve issues. Subscribe