On 5 April (Sunday), the Government gazetted two dormitories in Singapore as isolation areas after a spike in COVID-19 cases were reported among migrant workers who stayed at the dorms.
The dorms – S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan dormitory – were placed in a complete lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Just a day later (6 April), Toh Guan dormitory, which neighbours Westlite, was also gazetted by the Government as the third isolation area.
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.
However, just a day after the announcement was made, media reports highlighted the unsanitary and crowded living condition at the dorms where kitchens are infested with cockroaches, toilets are overflowing, and rubbish bins are flooded with garbage.
Following this, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released a statement on Monday (6 April) to highlight the efforts that the Ministry has made in ensuring the needs and well-being of migrant workers at the dorms are being well taken care of.
In the statement, MOM said : “MOM officers have also been working round-the-clock with the two dormitory operators and partners to prioritise the well-being of workers who remain healthy,” adding that this includes ensuring a timely supply of food and increasing hygiene management now that workers have to stay in the dorms all day.
Additionally, it also said all meals will be supplied to these workers by using the service of professional caterers instead of allowing the workers to cook in the dormitories’ kitchens. This is done to ensure their safety and “minimise the risk of unknown transmissions through gathering at the common kitchens”.
MOM also mentioned that although it faced “teething problems with the portion, suitability and distribution” of the food, but stated that these issues have “progressively resolved”.
“MOM has engaged multiple professional caterers to ensure that dormitory residents are receiving three proper meals a day. To date, the caterers have delivered over 65,000 portion of food and snacks,” MOM said.
It added, “The caterers are also continuously adjusting their menu to cater to the dietary preferences of the residents. Our officers are working with the dormitory operators and caterers to further streamline the food distribution process to ensure that residents get their meals in a timely manner.”
However, it appears that the current reality at these dorms are far-fetched from what MOM stated.
Bad and insufficient portion of food
In MOM’s press statement, it also accompanied pictures of meals catered to the workers at Westlife Toh Guan Dormitory, showing a sizeable portion of rice with curry and two side dishes.
Unfortunately, these migrant workers have refuted that such meals were supplied to them.
Based on images that TOC received this morning, it was said that workers at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory received a small container of unappetising fried rice for breakfast, while those at Toh Guan Dormitory got just a slice of plain white bread with another item which looks like a spring roll.
This is obviously nothing close to what MOM said the workers would receive.
If that’s not all, TOC also understands that employers are not allowed to send food to these workers who are housed in the dormitories.
An employer, who has more than 50 workers living at the dorm, told TOC that he was disallowed from passing food which was requested by his workers as they said that the food portion was too little for them.
Additionally, another image sent to TOC was taken at Toh Guan Dormitory for today’s lunch, where they received just plain white rice with a small piece of fried fish and some okra.
The workers told us that the food was tasteless and the vegetable was old and extremely hard to bite through.
Separately, some workers whom spoke to TOC told us that the vegetables given for last night’s dinner tasted spoilt.
If that’s not bad enough, a number of workers even said that they were forced to buy food from the canteen if they remain hungry.
As such, this shows that what MOM said on the kind of meals that are delivered to the workers at the dorms is not exactly what’s happening on the ground.