After a long, sustained battle to suppress Covid-19 infections in dormitories, the authorities yesterday launched a new campaign to guard against fresh mass outbreaks that could derail Singapore's hard-won gains against the coronavirus.
The measures will encompass educating migrant workers and ensuring that living conditions in dorms remain safe, and that they do not become breeding grounds for infection.
Dormitories with 500 residents or more will be audited at least once a week, under the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) programme launched by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday, to ensure safe living measures are in place.
Audits for the other dorms will be done during routine inspections.
Auditors will be trained to ensure that workers are familiar with hygiene practices such as hand washing before meals, the proper use of masks, as well as measures such as keeping to group sizes of no more than five, and reporting sick when they feel unwell.
As the details of the programme were revealed yesterday, the MOM's Assurance, Care and Engagement (Ace) Group medical director Lam Meng Chon said that while dorm operators and residents have started practising personal and environmental hygiene, it is necessary to ensure that standards are uniform across all dorms.
The Ace Group is an MOM division that was launched in August to support migrant workers and dorm operations.
The audits will be the last step of the programme, which begins with pre-training quizzes to test dorm operators, staff and residents on their baseline IPC knowledge, followed by online training.
To ensure that gaps are identified and corrective action is taken, audits will be conducted in dorms from about five weeks after the pre-training quizzes are made available to dorm operators, staff and residents, Dr Lam said.
Dorms became a key battleground in Singapore's fight against Covid-19, accounting for around 94 per cent of the cases here.
Workers in dorms now have to undergo compulsory rostered testing, while efforts are under way to reduce density in dorms by moving some workers to semi-permanent structures.
Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that the latest measures need to be regularly monitored and properly enforced.
"Many countries around the world have put in place strict guidelines around face mask wearing, but not many countries have properly enforced the implementation, leading to a spike in community transmissions," he said.
Audits under the IPC programme will be conducted by MOM officers and about 100 volunteers from the Singapore Healthcare Corps, of whom 40 are nurses familiar with infectious disease management.
Dr Lam said the nurses will help to design remedial action specific to the dormitories and the workers.
The ministry intends to make the IPC programme current, and will revise educational resources when knowledge gaps are identified.
Mr Alex Teo, head of audit at Centurion Corporation, which runs five Westlite dormitories here, said that the IPC framework is useful to teach dorm staff best practices, such as donning the appropriate protective equipment in various places within dorms.
"We have increased our manpower in areas such as security to manage the movement of workers in and out of the dormitories. Thousands of workers enter and exit the dorms daily, so more staff are needed to ensure safe living measures are met."
Westlite Mandai Dormitory resident Srinivasan, who goes by one name, said the IPC programme's videos are helpful for workers to understand the safety measures, as many have difficulty reading.
• Additional reporting by Clara Chong