Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong has said that if he had known about how cases in migrant worker dormitories would later “explode” into big clusters, he would have done things differently.
He further said that they (the government) did not have the benefit of the luxury of hindsight in relation to the handling of the outbreak of COVID-19 among the blue collar migrant labour in Singapore.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic which shocked and shook the entire world. To expect Singapore not to have been similarly floored would be unreasonable.
The fact that a virus would spread much quicker in close confines as opposed to a widely spaced environment is also a matter of common sense. Putting two and two together, it is not a far stretch for the government to have foreseen that migrant worker living quarters would be ripe grounds for a rampant spread? Can this then be considered the “benefit of the luxury of hindsight”? Is this “hindsight” or callous disregard?
The prescient question is whether this is a question of hindsight at all? Perhaps it is symptomatic of a certain entrenched way of thinking that makes some (and those in positions of power) disregard migrant workers as equal human beings in the first place.
Not to mention the first case of migrant worker infected with COVID-19 — Case 42, a 39-yr-old Bangladeshi who stayed in the Leo Dormitory — which was confirmed on 9 Feb this year.
It was sheer luck that the dormitory did not turn into a cluster and with that lucky break, the authorities had two months preparation for a potential outbreak in the clustered dormitories in Singapore. But from the last minute scramble to find accommodation for the migrant workers in the HDB flats, carparks, army camps and even floating hotels, shows that the authorities were simply caught off guard.
Another thing that cannot be overlooked is that the government is aware of the cramped conditions in which our foreign blue collar workers inhabit.
This issue has long been flagged by activists and groups such as Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).
A most disturbing report a few days earlier juxtaposed the living conditions of a grassroots leader through a magazine spread that his wife took part in and the migrant workers on whose backs their family wealth is earned.
The article highlighted Westlite Toh Guan which is run by public listed company Centurion Corporation Ltd, helmed by two Peoples’ Association grassroots leaders who are “joint chairmen” of the company: David Loh Kim Kang and Han Seng Juan. Han was awarded PBM in 2010 and BBM in 2015, while Loh got his PBM in 2011 and BBM in 2016.
The contrast (especially in our current times) cannot be more stark. There is quite simply something entirely wrong with the mindset of those in power that has to change. It is as if the authorities and by extension all of us, don’t see the parallel universe that our migrant blue collar workers inhabit!
With all due respect, not recognising that migrant worker dormitories provide ideal conditions for a virus spread is an oversight. Not hindsight. Quite simply, Wong just did not even think about them because, well, no one thinks of them.