Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo insisted that it is not the question of cost when it comes to not moving migrant workers out of dormitories earlier. Instead, the measures did not reflect an understanding of the workers’ own concerns for their livelihood. She said this during the multi-ministry task force press conference on Tuesday (21 April).
Ms Teo was responding to a journalist who asked if government did not implement stricter measures against COVID-19 in migrant worker dormitories earlier because a large scale of operation would incur high cost.
She said, “I think, it’s an important point to make, this is not just about cost.”
Noting that government implemented precautions since the beginning of January, Ms Teo said they have reached out to dormitory operators asking them to raise their hygiene standards and produce large numbers of materials for migrant workers on information about the virus and precautions to guard against it.
Other than this, government also implemented safe distancing measures within dormitories, including closing non-essential facilities such as TV rooms.
Ms Teo then asserted that these measures taken by government have gone well beyond the costs.
She explained, “We’re now asking the workers not to go to work. So from the workers’ standpoint, this is a question of livelihood.
“Now, to say that we could have done this much earlier, I think, really does not, you know, reflect an understanding of the workers’ own concern.
“It would not have been so easy to tell the workers please don’t go to work because we want to protect you. You have to do this in the context of a circuit breaker, where all work mostly has come to a stop,” she added.
The workers were also asked to not interact with each other. Ms Teo reiterated, “So it’s not just a question of cost. It is also a question of what is necessary to break the transmission.”
If that is not all, she remarked that it would really require “a whole host of other things to happen” such as work stoppages, closing shopping areas and preventing people from socialising with each other as part of efforts to break the transmission chain.
Speaking on the reason behind the enormous jump in COVID-19 cases in the country, Minister National Development Lawrence Wong explained that it is a result of the “aggressive testing regime” carried out in migrant workers’ dormitories.
Apart from just testing the workers who reported sick, the medical teams also tested those who are well and have no symptoms, says Mr Wong.
He also stressed that the surging number of COVID-19 cases are particularly driven by cases at migrant workers’ dormitories and “are not new cases of infections”.
“What this suggests is that, in fact, the infections have been occurring for some time, starting very early. And it has been going on and circulating, otherwise you will not have been able to pick up such high numbers,” he said.
Netizens unimpressed with Govt response to questions on migrant workers’ dormitories, saying, “weak reply”, “too aggressive and defensive”
However, the netizens were not buying Ms Teo’s response to the questions about preventing spikes in COVID-19 cases within migrant workers’ dormitories. In the video’s comment section, the Youtube users commented that the team has a “weak reply” to the question raised.
Mocking government as “Dodgeball National Team”, the users said that government is giving excuses instead of admitting their oversight and mistakes on the issue of migrant workers.
As government agencies have a “strong Wayang and Taichi culture”, one user opined that no one will want to take the blame in the issues of migrant workers. “We have such a great reputation in the local and global media, but it turns out that our actual response on the ground is the worst in the region.”
A few users also said the mismanagement and handling of the COVID-19 crisis have showed how incapable and poor calibre of the so called “4G” country leaders. “Sad to say, their arrogance and greed for brought the country to its current state,” one user wrote.
At the same time, HardwareZone forum thread with the headline, “Anyone unimpressed with mdm Jo Teo today?” was created on Tuesday night after the briefing.
Forum users opined that, based on her tone and body language, Ms Teo appeared to act aggressively and was defensive in her responses. Describing it as “wayang”, netizens said they feel disappointed and “cringe” when hearing her responses.
A user Caishenye wrote, “I wasn’t even watching, just listening while balancing some accounts. The patheric excuses and that ultra defensive tone she was making made me look up and shake head.”
User killtime wrote, “She is indeed good at using money to solve problems, money doesn’t belong to her anyway. She got bad body language and tone of voice. Stuck up attitude.”
User haiyata wrote, “Even the CCS leak was not so bad. At least he was not defensive and I was intested[interested] to hear what he say. This jo made me shake head and cringe.”
The user laopokcar_g said, “Yes she was never answering the qn[question]. And tried to act aggressive to be on the offensive. Wayang queen.”
Some users were also disappointed that Ms Teo seemed to constantly give excuses for her failure, saying, “She just unable to accept that she make mistakes,” which then led users to suggest that’s why she had lost her cool.
User UptheToon wrote, “She lost her cool. As Dr CSJ mentioned, it’s the mindset that they can do wrong, no humility. She’s just unable to accept that she made mistakes.”
While user GreatPumpkin wrote, “Lawrence was addressing the issues matter of factly. Jo was covering backside. Boo hoo the FWs, they have fweelings[feeling] too.”
Other user eAtNeAt said, “Her primary focus today is on herself. Constantly justifying her actions and continually provide excuses after excuses for her failure. You really think she is concerned abt[about] banglas meh, after years of neglect lol. Her boss is listening.”