SINGAPORE - With Covid-19 still circulating in Singapore, it will be too much of a risk to have migrant workers from dormitories mixing freely with the general population, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"We are actively working to make sure that their welfare is looked after," Mr Lee said of the workers living in dorms.
But, he added: "To have them living in a communal setting like this, and at the same time be able to mingle completely unrestrained with the rest of our population outside of the work setting, is risking going back to where we were."
He was speaking in an interview with the BBC broadcast on Sunday (March 14) where he also said the Government was very grateful to the workers for their cooperation in coping with tight constraints during the pandemic.
Almost a year after Covid-19 cases surged in foreign worker dorms last April at the peak of Singapore's coronavirus outbreak, migrant workers living in dorms are still not allowed to leave their compounds freely.
Asked about this, Mr Lee said about 50 per cent of migrant workers have tested positive in serological tests, indicating they had been infected with Covid-19 in the past.
This means half of them are still vulnerable to infection.
"We are working out arrangements so they are not cooped up in their rooms all the time," he said.
"We are trying to keep them safe, at the same time as we are keeping our own population safe, and not just safe physically, but also safe psychologically, because when you are all cooped up, you are under a lot of mental pressure. We are mindful of that, and we are taking care of that too," he added.
Where possible, restrictions have been relaxed at dorms to allow the workers to use communal facilities, such as the kitchen, gyms and basketball courts. A pilot scheme will also allow migrant workers from some dorms to return to the community once a month.
The Ministry of Health also recently announced that the national Covid-19 vaccination programme will be sped up and extended to more high-risk groups and essential workers, including migrant workers.
For a start, 10,000 migrant workers who have never been infected by Covid-19 and are living in the five largest dorms will get their jabs.
Asked how the outbreaks at the dorms happened last year, Mr Lee said migrant workers were always at risk because they are living at close quarters.
He added that it was the same case on aircraft carriers and cruise ships, as well as nursing homes, which have seen similar outbreaks.
"We took precautions and we hoped that they would be enough. They proved not adequate because of the infectiousness of the virus, and we had one or two cases which spread very rapidly, and it took off before we could tamp it down. That was how we got into the position, and it took us some time to bring it back under control, which we did," he said.
Mr Lee also noted that the vast majority of migrant workers are young men, and had the disease in very mild form.
"Fortunately, we were able to provide for them, keep them fed, looked after, in touch with their families with Wi-Fi paid by the employers, and be okay to be in a very tightly constrained mode for several months until the outbreak could be brought fully under control," he added.
"They cooperated with us, and we are very grateful. We are now in a safe position."