SINGAPORE - The stay-home notice that is being served by around 180,000 foreign workers in the construction sector and their dependants will be extended by another 14 days as a precautionary measure to stem the spread of Covid-19, the authorities said on Friday (May 1).
The workers, who are work permit and S Pass holders, will now serve their stay-home notice (SHN), initially slated to end on May 4, until May 18, 11.59pm.
In a joint statement, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said that the number of infected construction work pass holders who are living in premises that are not purpose-built dormitories has continued to rise.
"Their incidence/prevalence remains noticeably higher than the general community. This suggests that transmission at construction worksites among such workers had occurred before the start of the SHN period," the agencies said.
Singaporeans serving their stay-home notice are usually able to do it in isolation. But construction work pass holders are likely to be in shared lodgings, where they have continued interactions with one another. Factory-converted dormitories, for example, may have 12 men sharing a room.
The cases that are now being observed could have been incubated earlier or may have spread among the workers' close contacts and housemates, the statement said.
"Based on the public health assessment by the Ministry of Health,an extension of the SHN by a further 14 days to cover another incubation cycle will help to break the cycle of transmission," said the agencies.
The 180,000 workers and their dependants affected by the stay-home notice requirement are now staying in factory-converted dormitories, temporary quarters on construction sites and private residential premises such as shophouses.
About 27,000, or 15 per cent, of the 180,000, mostly S Pass holders and their dependants, live in Housing Board flats.
The 180,000 also include a "small percentage" of at least 7,000 healthy workers who have been moved to alternative living areas such as military camps, floating hotels and sports halls, MOM had said previously.
The agencies added that the Government recognises the impact of the measure on affected employers, and that these efforts will help to enable an eventual restart of the construction sector.
"Thus far, the vast majority of employers have looked after their workers well. We will need them to continue doing so for the remaining period of the stay-home notice," they said, adding that employers should make arrangements for delivery of food or groceries to enable cooking, and other daily essentials. They should also ensure that their workers consult a doctor immediately when unwell. As far as possible, unwell workers should also be isolated as a precautionary measure.
MOH has also explained the rationale for the extension to members of the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (Scal) and the Specialist Trades Alliance of Singapore.
" We are grateful for their understanding and support, and agree to also commence preparations to help the built environment sector resume operations when conditions allow."
SCAL is setting up a SCAL Covid-19 fund to help small and medium-sized enterprises and their employees during this Covid-19 period to maintain employment and keep the SMEs in business.
It is in the midst of pooling funds and estimates the total funding to be between $800,000 and $1 million, potentially providing assistance to at least 500 SMEs and 5,000 employees. The Government will provide matching funds to supplement what SCAL is able to raise from the industry.
More details will be released by SCAL at a later date.
Employers who have been approved by BCA for their foreign workers to carry out essential services during the stay-home notice may continue these works unless these approvals have been cancelled by BCA. No reapplication is necessary.
Foreign workers granted exemptions are allowed to leave their places of residence only to perform essential activities. All remaining conditions of the stay-home notice, such as ensuring that workers do not travel elsewhere except to and from work will continue to apply, the agencies said.
Mr Hooi Yu Koh, chief executive of construction firm Kori Holdings, has more than 10 workers who are now on stay-home notice.
Most of the workers, who are from Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar, are staying in private residences such as terraced houses, he said, and they have individual rooms. “The good thing is that they stay with other colleagues who are permanent residents, so they can help them out with daily needs like buying meals.”
“14 days is not a long period, so we can still cope with the measure,” added Mr Hooi.
Mr Wong Chee Herng, group managing director and chief executive officer of Straits Construction, has a few hundred workers serving stay-home notice, most of whom are living in dormitories. “We have appointed colleagues who will be in charge of groups of workers in different parts of Singapore. They’ve been helping them with needs like buying essentials.”