Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo propounded that the workers gathering for social activities such as cooking, eating and relaxing together have resulted in the escalating numbers of COVID-19 cases in some foreign workers dormitories “in quick succession” despite the safe distancing measure being put in place.
During a press conference on Tuesday (14 April), Ms Teo said that the epidemiological findings showed the infected workers are linked through common work sites while workers from different dormitories may gather to socialise and shop during their days off.
She then said, “This may explain why up to mid-March, the cases of dorm workers testing positive were few and far between. But in quick succession in some dormitories, many popped up.”
According to Ms Teo, the government has worked to reduced the influx of migrant workers so as to minimise the risk of imported cases of COVID-19.
Other than reminding dormitory operators to stay vigilant, the government also implemented some precautions such as encourage workers to take steps to protect themselves with materials produced in their native language, closed non-essential facilities such as gyms and TV-rooms, staggered meal times and recreational hours as well as banned intermixing between blocks.
Government moved out about 7,000 of workers who work in essential service to alternative accommodation
As for now, Ms Teo said that government will put effort to curb the spread of virus among workers’ dormitories based on the “three-pronged strategy”.
For the dormitories with cluster emerging, Ms Teo said they will “actively contain” the spread by locking down the dormitories, not allowing workers to go in or out.
“Workers have to stay in their room as much as possible, minimise interactions with other workers. Meals are provided to avoid communal cooking. Those with communal toilets have scheduled, staggered shower times,” she said.
She added that coronavirus testing is also being conducted to identify and isolate infected workers while the health of the other workers will be closely monitored.
Touching on dormitories that have thus far been linked to COVID-19 clusters, Ms Teo noted that 29 of the 43 purpose-built dormitories and almost all the factory-converted dormitories do not have a cluster yet.
To prevent the forming of clusters at these dormitories, she said the government has isolated the workers who have tested positive and their close contacts, effectively placing them on lockdown. The same precautionary measures will be but in place at these non-gazetted dormitories.
“Likewise, workers have to stay in the dormitories. Within the dormitories, we enforce strict safe distancing measures, which means no more cooking and freely mixing with friends from other housing unit,” she said.
As some workers who work in essential services may be affected by the isolation, Ms Teo said that they have moved out about 7,000 of those workers to alternative accommodation from all 43 purpose-built dormitories as well as factory-converted dormitories.
With the workers moved out from the dormitories, there is now more spaces for isolation facilities within the dormitories and subsequently, ill workers or those who wait for the swab tests results can be isolated separately within the compound, says Ms Teo.
In order to prevent the spread of virus, the government also implemented medical screening to ensure the workers do not have any symptoms before moving into the separate facilities.
Besides, the workers are required to comply with elevated safe distancing measure while at the workplace, or travelling to work. This includes wearing face mask, not interacting with other workers during work, eating meals alone and staying at home after work.
Deploying FAST teams and medical support to the dorm; should have more dorm operators to handle food and hygiene matters
In addition, Ms Teo also stressed the role of three key enablers—which are FAST teams, medical support, as well as dorm operators and employers—in helping government to effectively implement its three-pronged strategy.
Consisting Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officers, Ms Teo said the FAST teams who carry the mission to take care of the well being of workers are a “great help” to the dormitory operators where they help to sort out food and cleanliness issues, maintain close contact with the workers and attend to their feedback.
Ms Teo also remarked that it will soon deploy roving FAST teams to support employers or dorm operators at factory-converted dormitories.
Next, medical teams comprising doctors, nurses and technician supported by Regional Healthcare Systems will be deployed to the dorm while workers from factory-converted dormitories can receive their medical treatments at Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) if they are unwell.
Noting that eight medical posts have been set up at the gazetted dormitories, Ms Teo said the government aims to have medical touch points at all 43 purpose-built dormitories.
The medical teams, according to Ms Teo, will reach out the workers who are unwell, conduct swab test for those who have acute respiratory infection symptoms, manage the isolation cases, assess the condition of workers, as well as work with the FAST teams to set up on-site isolation facilities.
“Their presence gives the workers great confidence,” she noted.
Touching on the role of dorm operators and employers, Ms Teo said that employers are responsible to ensure the workers are able to continue receiving their salaries as the workers consider this to be very important for their sense of well-being.
She also stressed that the dorm operators should be responsible in handling the food and hygiene matters so that their FAST teams can focus on effective safe distancing measures and tackling other issues.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has declared Mandai Lodge 1 on Mandai Road as an isolation area under the Infectious Diseases Act, according to a notice on the Government Gazette on Wednesday (April 15). The move comes into effect on Thursday.
Following the surge of COVID-19 cases in these dormitories, Ministry of Health (MOH) currently gazetted nine foreign workers dormitories as isolation areas, which include Mandai Lodge 1, Cochrane Lodge I and II, Acacia Lodge, Tampines Dormitory, Sungei Tengah Lodge, Toh Guan Dormitory, S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan dormitory.