Just a day after the Government gazetted two dormitories as isolation areas on Sun (5 Apr) following a spike in COVID-19 cases among migrant workers housed in the said dorms, the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan are reportedly already rife with overcrowding and pest infestations.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told the media that the decision to gazette the dormitories was part of two separate strategies for tackling local transmission, each for dormitories and the community at large.
“Once the circuit breaker (measures) kicks in, all foreign workers, on top of (those in) isolation areas, will have to stay in dormitories and will not be able to come out, so there is no infection to the rest of the community,” he said.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that quarantining all workers staying in the two dormitories will serve to prevent further transmissions from any potentially infected workers to others in the dormitories as well as into the community. Workers who are symptomatic have already been isolated, the Ministry added.
The Government said that workers in the two dormitories will be subject to restricted movement and will not be permitted to leave their dormitories for 14 days from the day the isolation takes effect.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in the multi-ministry taskforce news conference on Sun said that the Government “will further thin out the number of people in the dorms, and this is to facilitate the enhanced safe distancing measures that we want to implement”.
In a series of videos circulating on social media, many workers staying at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol can be seen standing in close proximity to one another and queuing very closely among each other, contrary to the government-recommended minimum separation of one-metre between individuals.
Cramped spaces in the dormitory — which houses 13,000 workers — make social distancing measures difficult to implement, as seen in the above video and the photograph below.
Several workers living in S11 Dormitory @ Punggol who spoke to The Straits Times have disclosed the unsanitary and crowded living conditions in the two dormitories, where kitchens are infested with cockroaches and toilets are overflowing.
Rubbish bins at the dormitory are also flooded with garbage and waste, as seen in the photograph below.
TOC understands that cleaning fees have to be paid to the dormitory. It is unclear, however, as to whether the employer or workers will pay for the said fees.
Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh today raised an issue regarding the conditions at the isolation facilities in which migrant workers are being housed.
“The government has allowed their employers to transport them in flatbed trucks with no seats. They stay in overcrowded dormitories and are packed likes sardines with 12 persons to a room.
“The dormitories are not clean or sanitary. The dormitories were like a time bomb waiting to explode. They have now exploded with many infected workers,” he said in a Facebook post.
Professor Koh, who chairs the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore, expressed his anger at how the migrant workers are treated.
“I feel angry when I see foreign workers sitting on the ground eating their lunch. I see exhausted foreign workers stretched out on the ground to rest,” he said.
These conditions, said Professor Koh, should serve as “a wake-up call” for Singapore to “treat our indispensable foreign workers like a First World country should and not in the disgraceful way in which they are treated now”.
Manpower Ministry deputy secretary of workplaces Jason Chen told media at the multi-ministry taskforce news conference on Sun that workers at the two dormitories will be given free meals and goodie bags with masks, thermometers, hand sanitisers and snacks to “lift their spirits”.
Workers who spoke to ST, however, said that they were not provided with masks. The meals they have been receiving are also reportedly inadequate to sustain their energy requirements.
Commercial mega-dorms make safe distancing measures nearly impossible, pose high risk of rapid mass infections: HOME
Non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) in a statement today (6 Apr) questioned if migrant workers are “protected sufficiently and humanely” in the commercial mega-dormitories.
The cramped living conditions, said HOME, make it impossible for the migrant workers to practice proper safe distancing measures.
“Mega dorms house tens of thousands of workers. At any one time, residents have to share facilities e.g. toilets and eating areas with dozens of people.
“Even in licensed commercial dormitories that adhere to the authorities’ standards for housing migrant workers, the space per resident means safe physical distancing is extremely difficult,” said the organisation.
HOME added that in unlicensed accommodation such as converted industrial premises — in which it claimed many employers currently house their workers — conditions are “often worse” in relation to those in licenced ones.
Highlighting that the high density of residents in such dormitories — coupled with the asymptomatic transmissibility of COVID-19 — may result in a new cluster of infections, HOME urged the Government to conduct wide-scale testing of migrant workers in accommodation with confirmed infections.
“HOME still sees recent cases where employers not only refused to cover workers’ medical expenses but also discouraged or even punished workers for seeing a doctor when unwell.
“Unsurprisingly, workers usually see a doctor only when their symptoms are sustained or more serious. Workers’ poor access to timely medical care means those infected may go undetected until much later: lengthening the period that the virus may be transmitted.
“Keeping them in such living conditions creates systemic vulnerabilities waiting to erupt. This endangers the workers and the broader community: not only during pandemics, but even with smaller-scale disease outbreak such as TB,” the organisation warned.
“Singapore has benefited so much from enjoying the fruit of their labour while keeping their cost low. We owe it to them and their families to spare no effort to protect them,” said HOME.