Sports, movie screenings and cooking among communal activities resumed at some dorms

Migrant workers cooking in the kitchen at Changi Lodge 2 dormitory on Dec 13. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Communal facilities that have reopened at Changi Lodge 2 include the volleyball court, which requires residents to book time slots in advance. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Residents using equipment in the fitness park at Changi Lodge 2. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - In the past few weeks, about 50 purpose-built and Quick Build dormitories have applied to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for their workers to resume certain communal activities such as outdoor sports, board games, cooking and even small group movie screenings.

So far, about 30 have received approval to restart over 120 different activities within their premises.

They must ensure there are safe distancing measures in place, Mr Tan Fang Qun, commander of Regional Command (West) of MOM's Assurance, Care and Engagement Group, said during a visit to Changi Lodge 2 on Sunday (Dec 13).

Restrictions for workers residing in dorms have been gradually eased in recent weeks as part of a calibrated approach taken by the authorities.

Foreign workers at some dorms can now exercise at the outdoor courts and gyms within the premises, and watch movies in television rooms during their free time.

They can also unwind in games rooms or use communal kitchens to whip up their own meals, if the dorm operators have been given the approval for their workers to do so.

But these workers have to abide by certain rules, from staggered time slots for the use of kitchen facilities to maintaining a safe distance in the outdoor courts.

The restrictions on the more than 300,000 workers staying in dorms - including confining them to their quarters - were introduced following a surge in Covid-19 cases in the dorms in April.

Currently, workers are still largely required to stay in their dorms except when they are going to work or running essential errands. They can also apply to visit specified recreation centres on their rest days.

At Changi Lodge 2 in Tanah Merah Coast Road, communal facilities that have reopened in recent weeks include the volleyball court and games room, which require residents to book time slots in advance.

In the communal kitchen, each floor is allocated a specific time slot for usage at mealtimes. While there was no time limit in the past, residents now have to cook within one-hour slots.

There are also two TV rooms, which can be booked for about two to three hours. There is a five-person limit per room, which previously could accommodate about 20 people.

The workers are encouraged to engage in many of these activities with their roommates.

Should a coronavirus case be discovered within a dorm, communal activities will be temporarily suspended and the close contacts of that worker will be quarantined. It would later be assessed if it is safe to resume activities.

Mr Tan said it is important to take "a calibrated and cautious approach" towards allowing workers back into the community or relaxing some of the restrictions.

Mr Johnathan Cheah, managing director of S11 Dormitories, which runs Changi Lodge 2, said some workers have been cooped up in their rooms for months, and miss their lives before Covid-19.

"Across all the dorms in Singapore, what we are trying to do is to resume many of the normal activities they used to enjoy," he added.

But this is done carefully, by implementing scheduled timings for activities and limiting the number of people involved at any one time.

Dorm residents welcomed the gradual resumption of activities.

Chinese worker Zhang Jinlei now spends about 30 minutes every morning running within the dorm premises. The 36-year-old had been unable to do so for several months due to restrictions.

"We had no choice, we couldn't go out," he said. "But I am happy that I get to run outdoors again."

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