Two dorms declared isolation areas as virus cases hit new high

120 new infections - mostly foreign workers, but also citizens and PRs

Of the new cases, 22 are linked to S11 Dormitory @ Punggol. It now has at least 63 confirmed cases.
Of the new cases, 22 are linked to S11 Dormitory @ Punggol. It now has at least 63 confirmed cases. PHOTO: COURTESY OF S11 DORMITORY @ PUNGGOL RESIDENT

Two dormitories with large numbers of coronavirus cases have been gazetted as isolation areas, as part of measures announced yesterday to stem the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

This means around 20,000 workers at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite in Toh Guan will be quarantined in their rooms for the next 14 days. In addition, measures will be taken to reduce interaction of workers in other dormitories. These include preventing workers from intermingling between different blocks and floors, and staggering meal and recreation times.

The Government will also house foreign workers providing essential services separately.

The moves come after the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed a record 120 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, of which four were imported and 116 local. This brings Singapore's total to 1,309 cases.

Fifty of the 116 new local cases are linked to previous cases or clusters, while 66 cases are unlinked, and contact-tracing efforts are ongoing, said MOH.

This points to instances of local infections spreading in the community, including among Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs).

Of the new cases, 22 are linked to S11 Dormitory @ Punggol at 2 Seletar North Link. Also known as PPT Lodge 1B, it now has at least 63 confirmed cases.

Another 10 have been linked to Westlite Toh Guan dormitory at 18 Toh Guan Road East, which now has at least 28 confirmed cases.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the workers will continue to be paid during this period, and that they will still be able to make remittances to their families back in their home countries. They will also have all meals provided.

Dormitories are a growing area of concern in the outbreak, and made up three of the four new clusters announced last Saturday.

Mrs Teo noted that workers interact very regularly, and hence there is the risk of transmission. Any workers living in dorms who are unwell will be relocated and housed separately at sick bays as a precaution, even if they do not test positive for the coronavirus, she added.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force battling the coronavirus, said foreign workers are not inherently at higher risk of transmitting the virus compared with locals. "It's not an issue of targeting a particular group... The issue we are facing here is that dormitories... have now emerged as a cluster of infection," he said.

While the numbers might be up among foreign workers, the authorities remain concerned about cases among the elderly, who are especially vulnerable.

Mr Wong said there are now two separate strategies for tackling the spread of local cases - one for the wider community and another for dormitories.

From tomorrow, foreign workers living in all dormitories will have to stay within their premises, he said.

He also urged Singapore residents to take the strict measures that kick in tomorrow very seriously, and leave their homes only for essential activities like buying food, to check the spread of the virus in the community.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the number of Covid-19 cases should gradually slow down with the measures in place, but stressed that the "circuit breaker" will be effective only if every person cooperates and complies with the measures.

"Please stay home. If you must go out, please practise safe distancing. And remember to maintain good personal hygiene. The health of us all depends on the actions of each of us," PM Lee said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2020, with the headline Two dorms declared isolation areas as virus cases hit new high. Subscribe