SINGAPORE - From Dec 3, up to 3,000 fully vaccinated migrant workers living in dormitories will be allowed to visit public places each day.
This works out to 21,000 workers per week, up from the current limit of 3,000 per week.
Workers will also no longer be restricted to just Little India or Geylang Serai, and will be allowed to go wherever they choose.
Meanwhile, migrant workers will also be allowed daily visits to recreation centres here, up from thrice a week currently. These visits will be extended to eight hours, from four hours now.
Unvaccinated workers will need to take an antigen rapid test before visiting the recreation centre, or use a negative test result from their rostered routine testing. Those who are vaccinated do not need to take any tests beforehand.
There are eight recreation centres islandwide and workers are currently assigned to a fixed centre.
From mid-December, workers will be allowed to visit any of the eight centres, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng at a Covid-19 multi-ministry task force press conference on Monday (Nov 15).
Movement restrictions on migrant workers living in dormitories were last eased on Oct 30, when the authorities increased the number of vaccinated workers allowed to visit the community from 500 to 3,000 per week.
Dr Tan said the pilot scheme allowing these community visits, which started in September, has been well received by migrant workers.
No infections have been detected among the participants so far.
More than 98 per cent of migrant workers living in dorms are fully vaccinated, and of those eligible for a third booster shot, 81 per cent have taken it up, Dr Tan said.
From now until next January, about 61 per cent of fully vaccinated migrant workers will become eligible for the booster.
At the same time, the rate of Covid-19 infections in dorms has fallen over the past two to three weeks, with an effective reproduction rate of 0.9, Dr Tan added.
The seven-day multiple has also been below one, which means the number of positive cases in dorms has been falling, he said.
Just 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent of infected workers need to be hospitalised.
The vast majority of positive cases are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
Said the Ministry of Health in a statement: "Covid-19 infections in the dormitories have stabilised over the last few weeks with an average daily number of 143 migrant workers testing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) positive in the last week."
MOH noted that migrant workers, except for those who have recovered from the virus, also have to undergo weekly testing, regardless of vaccination status.
Dr Tan said the further easing of restrictions for migrant workers will enable these workers to meet friends and family living in the other dorms.
The necessary safeguards such as an additional antigen rapid test before they leave their dorm for the community visits will remain in place as an added precaution.
“Touch wood, we have not had a single death due to Covid-19 among migrant workers this year,” he said. “Because of that, we were able to, in a very calibrated and careful manner, ensure that as we completed one pilot after another successfully, we could take a bolder step.”
With the increased quota, workers will be able to go out into the community once every few months, he added.
“The plan is actually to ease it even more. Of course, the caveat is that we should not be hit by another variant or that there shouldn’t be some huge uptick,” he added.
He urged dorm operators and employers to support migrant workers so that they are able to fully utilise the community visit.
During the first month of the pilot scheme, only about 700 workers from 30 dorms had visited Little India, out of a maximum quota of 2,000 workers.
Dr Tan also called for more support from recreation centre operators and non-governmental organisations.
The Manpower Ministry is working with these parties to increase the variety of activities at the recreation centres, such as movie screenings and sports games.
Processes are also being put in place to manage a larger number of visits from migrant workers.
Said Dr Tan: "Every step we take aims to balance the needs of our migrant workers alongside with the management of public health risks.
"I would like to thank our migrant workers for their continued patience and trust in us. We've only been able to achieve this progress with all of your cooperation and all of your support," he added.
"Now, as the Covid-19 situation evolves, we will continue to prioritise your safety and your health as we monitor the situation and as we look to easing restrictions further."
Meanwhile, there are now 16 quick build dorms (QBDs) in 11 locations here, Dr Tan said during Monday’s press conference.
These are semi-permanent dorms with improved standards built to reduce the density in existing dorms.
Of the 16 QBDs, four have been repurposed as boarding centres for workers arriving from overseas.
Moving forward, existing dorms will also transition to higher standards, but time is needed for this to be done, Dr Tan said.