Netizens aren't buying Josephine Teo's explanation on rise in COVID-19 cases at dormitories

On Tuesday (14 April), the 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.

Ms Teo said that the epidemiological findings showed infected workers are being linked through common work sites while workers from different dormitories may gather to socialise and shop during their days off.

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 encouraging 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.

In her briefing, Ms Teo went on to explain the government’s three-pronged strategy to curb the spread of the deadly virus among foreign workers.

First, 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.

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.

The second prong is to prevent the forming of clusters at these dormitories. To achieve this, Ms Teo 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 put in place at these non-gazetted dormitories.

As some workers who work in essential services may be affected by the isolation, Ms Teo said that they have also moved out about 7,000 of those workers from all 43 purpose-built dormitories as well as factory-converted dormitories to alternative accommodation.

Finally, the government is increasing medical screening at dorms and have teams in place to ensure that workers adhere to the elevated safe distancing measures.

Ms Teo also remarked that it will soon deploy roving FAST teams—consisting of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officers—to support employers or dorm operators at factory-converted dormitories.

Netizens, however, were not impressed with Ms Teo’s briefing. Many pointed out that the MOM’s actions now are too little and too late.

Quite a number of people commented that the government’s actions have thus far been reactive instead of proactive, which is what led to this situation in the first place.

KS Teo asks why the government didn’t think to implement these strategies in February when the virus first arrived in Singapore.
Others pointed out that the living conditions at these foreign worker dormitories were already in a sorry state well before the pandemic hit Singapore’s shores.
Lee Nguang Chua noted that it is costly to the MOM for not detecting and fixing the problem of living conditions at dorms sooner.

A couple of people wondered if MOM will be taking action against the dorm operators for the living conditions.

A few netizens noted that the government appears to be shifting the blame for this escalation in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country to the foreign workers, employers, and dorm operators instead of shouldering the responsibility themselves.

Kelvin Jubal Lee suggested that there should be an inquiry into the negligence, lack of foresight, and mismanagement of the pandemic in relation to foreign worker dormitories in Singapore.

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