Conditions at the dormitory in Punggol that currently houses around 13,000 migrant workers could have been better maintained while it was being transformed into an isolation area, said Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad in Parliament yesterday (7 Apr).
His statement was made in reference to media articles reporting the unsanitary and crowded living conditions in two dormitories –- one of which is the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol –- where kitchens are infested with cockroaches, toilets are overflowing, and rubbish bins are flooded with garbage.
Both the dormitory in Punggol and another dormitory — the Westlite Toh Guan — were gazetted as isolation areas on 5 Apr after a spike in COVID-19 cases among migrant workers who stayed in the said dorms.
Mr Zaqy told the House that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is working hand in hand with the Migrant Workers’ Centre as well as dorm operators “round-the-clock” to make sure that good hygiene is maintained and food is given on a timely manner during the extended hours of stay by workers.
In addition to that, foreign workers who have been in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases will also have to be separately quarantined.
The Health Ministry has also put in place medical posts on-site to attend and treat those unwell, who will be moved and housed separately from their roommates.
As of now, there are 13,000 residents at the S11 dorm. 98 of them have been tested positive with the novel coronavirus.
The Westlite dormitory currently houses 6,800 workers with 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
All the workers living in the dorms gazetted as isolation areas have to be in quarantine in their own rooms for 14 days to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo earlier concurred that while raising the standards in foreign worker dormitories is the right thing to do, MOM will also have to focus on the ‘enormous task’ of containing the transmission of the virus at the dormitories.
Mrs Teo in a Facebook post on Mon noted that the dormitories are licensed under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act, which required operators to comply with a set of licence conditions including maintaining standards for cleanliness, water supply, sanitation, and hygiene of premises.
Noting that everyone has different ideas about the right standards of the dormitories, Mrs Teo listed out the facilities that should be available at purpose-built dorms: proper sleeping rooms with beds, dedicated toilet and shower facilities, recreational spaces with TV, newspapers, supermarkets or minimarts, and dedicated sick bays.
“We are talking about 200,000 workers spread out in 43 dorms. My team is already working round-the-clock. They are on the frontlines dealing with sometimes very tense conditions.
“Please do not demoralise them with finger-pointing. They deserve better,” she noted.
“Let us cross this important hurdle during this “circuit breaker”, and then we can deal with this issue in a dedicated way. You have my word.”
More COVID-19 tests will be done for workers
During the debate on the supplementary Solidarity Budget, Nee Soon Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng said that many Singaporeans are worried about the well-being and safety of these workers at both the dorms.
He went on to state that the dorms are heavily packed with migrant workers living in close proximity with each other and that conditions were still “far from optimal” as of Monday.
As such, he called on the Government to proactively test workers in dorms with virus cases, beginning with those who live closely with infected individuals.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in response that more COVID-19 would be carried for workers in the dorms.