Activists such as Jolovan Wham have long criticised Singapore for the way it treats its foreign workers. It would probably be fair to say that they live in tight cramp quarters with low pay and no rights to citizenship even as they build the infrastructure in which we rely on.
Even Professor Tommy Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large commented that foreign workers are treated in a Third World manner.
“…The government has allowed their employers to transport them in flat bed 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. Singapore should treat this as a wake up call to treat our indispensable foreign workers like a First World country should and not in the disgraceful way in which they are treated now..
Given their housing arrangements, it comes as no surprise that the dreaded COVID-19 has reared its ugly head in these foreign worker dormitories.
As of yesterday, 6 of the reported COVID-19 clusters are foreign workers dormitories and three that are construction sites.
Bloomberg reports that:
“Singapore reported its highest daily increase of coronavirus cases on Sunday, as infections rose among foreign workers housed in massive dormitories…….In particular, two previously reported clusters, involving dorms for foreign workers, saw a jump in the number of cases. These two dorms have now been declared “isolation areas” and any individuals residing there will have to stay in their rooms for 14 days to avoid the spread of the virus, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo. Almost 20,000 people live in the two dorms.”
Countries the world over have asked its citizens to go into lock down in their own home to reduce the spread of the virus.
But how are foreign workers who live so closely together in their dormitories ever to go into lock down or isolation properly? Even if they were to isolate themselves from the public, they still have to share their room with 10-20 other room mates.
With people living so closely together, its conditions are pretty much ideal for the spread of the virus!
Should Singapore not have done something earlier about this? It is after all not rocket science that the dormitories would be sitting ducks for the corona virus spread?
Besides, cases having foreign workers being infected with COVID-19 are not new. There have been reports of the virus spreading in foreign workers’ accommodation as early as 10 February this year.
Almost two whole months ago!
Why didn’t the government act then? Why has the government not thought of measures to spread the foriegn workers out or find alternative housing in an event of a outbreak within a dormitory?
Now, the workers in the two largest cluster of COVID-19 infection — S11 Dormitory @ Punggol (63 cases) and Westlite Toh Guan dormitory (28 cases) — are being isolated within the dormitories itself.
This reeks of a potential repeat of the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship where the Japanese government is being accused of failing to isolate the crew of the Diamond Princess from the beginning of the quarantine, he said infected workers may have passed on “secondary or tertiary” infections to their fellow crew members and passengers, thereby exacerbating the deadly outbreak. At least 705 people contracted the virus during the quarantine, four of whom have died.
Now word has it that the government is scrambling to refurnish housings to house these foreign workers for quarantine. But the government has had ample time to react but has seemingly done little or nothing? Why?
Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo has said that the “key objective is to ensure the health and well-being of everyone, not just of our own people but also foreign workers helping our economy… We want to give foreign workers the assurance that the measures we take are in their interest as well as their well-being.”
While the statement sends a strong feeling of intent, questions still remain as to whether this is a case of too little too late? If we genuinely cared about the welfare of our foreign workers, why wait till now to take action?
We already know they live in close quarters. We already know that the virus tends to spread through close contact. Surely, it is a question of common sense to have done something about this earlier?
Now that the virus has already begun to spread in the living quarters of the workers, it may well be too late to effectively stem the tide.
Singapore prides itself as an efficient country. In view of this reputation of efficiency, it might be harder to believe that the government did not have an inkling that foreign workers would be susceptible to the outbreak and make preparation for it.