Record 287 new Covid-19 cases in S'pore, links found between Mustafa Centre and clusters in foreign worker dormitories

Workers at the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol on April 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Many foreign workers who are healthy will be moved to army camps. PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - Singapore saw a sharp spike of 287 coronavirus cases on Thursday (April 9), with the majority linked to foreign worker dormitories.

This is the highest daily number reported to date and brings the total number of cases here to 1,910, as the global number of cases crossed the 1.5 million mark.

Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean is now advising the multi-ministry task force on handling the Covid-19 situation in foreign worker dormitories, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, noting that the police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are involved in operations there.

To cut the chain of transmission in dormitories, thousands of foreign workers who are healthy - especially those working in essential services - will be moved to army camps, floating hotels, and vacant Housing Board blocks.

Singapore has also started active case finding and is swab-testing workers in various dormitories, said the Health Ministry's (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak at a press conference on Thursday.

Preliminary investigations have linked the cluster at Mustafa Centre with clusters at the construction site at Project Glory and five dormitories.

Associate Professor Mak said the ministry believes that foreign workers had visited Mustafa Centre, where some employees had fallen ill, and got infected there.

They then transmitted the infection to their co-workers, who subsequently infected others at their dormitories.

"Many had very mild symptoms and so they continued to work, that's why there was a delay in picking them up," said Mr Wong, who chairs the ministerial task force along with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. It is likely that the virus had been spreading in dormitories for some time, he said.

Preliminary investigations have linked the cluster at Mustafa Centre with clusters at the construction site at Project Glory and five dormitories. ST PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID, ONG WEE JIN

Mr Wong said Singapore is dealing with two separate infection spreads.

In foreign worker dormitories, numbers are rising sharply, he noted. But in the wider community, numbers are more stable.

"This is a major and urgent issue that requires active intervention," he said. "That is why we decided to put in more resources and set up a dedicated task force focusing on dorms."

On Tuesday, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) had announced the formation of an inter-agency task force to provide support to foreign workers and dormitory operators.

The task force will ensure the well-being of workers and improve their living conditions by supporting dormitory operators as they implement circuit breaker measures.

MOM is supported by the Ministry of Health, National Environment Agency, the SAF, the Singapore Police Force, Migrant Workers' Centre and other agencies.

Explaining the Government's decision to set up a task force, Mr Wong said: "We cannot rely solely on dorm operators anymore, given the current situation."

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo noted that there has been no cluster in dormitories until recently, even though a number of foreign workers have tested positive for the virus.

"Bear in mind that dorms are home to foreign workers," she added. "Within dorms workers interact with each other very regularly, very closely, they're like family, so the risk of transmission was always there."

Workers will now not be able to prepare their own meals, to reduce human contact, and cleanliness and hygiene have been stepped up. Existing sick bays will also be scaled up to take care of workers that need to be isolated.

A foreign worker is registered by an SAF officer before moving into his accomodation at an SAF camp. PHOTO: MINDEF

Mr Gan said that despite circuit breaker measures kicking in on Tuesday, social gatherings are still taking place. More than 10,000 written advisories have been issued over the past two days to those who did not observe safe distancing.

"This cannot continue," he said.

Mr Wong added that enforcement efforts will be stepped up against those who continue to flout safe-distancing measures.

"We hope Singaporeans will comply not just because of enforcement efforts but really out of a necessity for all of us to do our part," he said.

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