Over 5,500 workers tested as precaution after cluster

More than 5,500 workers were tested as part of a pre-emptive Covid-19 testing operation across various dorms and worksites from last Friday to Monday, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

The authorities carried out this precautionary measure following the cluster at Westlite Woodlands dormitory, which has seven cases so far, including five who were reinfected.

In all, 26 residents at the dorm had tested positive for Covid-19, though of these cases, two subsequently tested negative while another 11 were assessed to be shedding virus fragments.

Among the more than 5,500 workers tested are those who went to the same worksite as the Westlite Woodlands cases, and workers from other dorms who came into contact with them.

These tests are in addition to the rostered routine testing conducted on dorm residents every 14 days, and include workers who have recovered from previous infections as well as those who have never been infected, said MOM in a statement.

The pre-emptive operation was carried out by the MOM's Assurance, Care and Engagement Group, along with the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Economic Development Board.

The precautionary testing operation comes after a group of reinfected workers was detected at the Westlite Woodlands purpose-built dorm recently.

Steps taken to protect workers, curb risk of infection

After a special testing operation at the dorm, 24 recovered workers initially tested positive.

Two of them had negative results after retesting. Five were determined to be likely cases of reinfection, while 11 were assessed to be shedding virus fragments, which are no longer infective to others. The remaining six cases are being assessed by an expert panel.

This breakdown shows that most Covid-19 positive cases among workers may be assessed to be old infections, MOM said.

The first of the seven cases that formed the cluster is a 35-year-old Bangladeshi construction supervisor who was confirmed to have Covid-19 on April 19. The other cases are his roommates.

Among the five cases of reinfection, two individuals had arrived from Bangladesh on April 6. Epidemiological investigations found they were likely to have been infected while overseas, and passed the infection to the others in the dorm room, MOH said on Tuesday.

There is currently no evidence of transmission to the rest of the dormitory.

MOM said yesterday that precautionary steps have been taken to protect workers who are well and to curb the risk of transmission. The BCA has stepped up inspections on safety measures at construction worksites as well, it added.

Dorm residents can still use in-dormitory communal facilities and recreation centres, but access will be regulated to reduce mingling among workers. Movement between dormitory blocks continues to be disallowed.

"Workers have also been advised to cease social interactions with others who do not reside in the same room or floor," said MOM.

The ministry assured affected migrant workers that they have access to round-the-clock medical assistance. Measures are also in place to look after their mental well-being, including counselling hotlines in their native languages.

Affected workers will continue to be paid their salaries for the duration of the quarantine, and their period of absence from work will be treated as paid hospitalisation leave, as part of workers' leave eligibility, the ministry said.

"MOM appreciates the contributions and cooperation of our migrant workers as we do our best to protect them by decisively managing potential clusters of infection... Measures such as quarantine are not conducted for longer than necessitated by public health reasons."

The ministry urged employers and dormitory operators to remain vigilant, ensure safe management measures are followed and send workers for rostered routine testing in a timely fashion.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2021, with the headline Over 5,500 workers tested as precaution after cluster. Subscribe