When looking back at the number of cases during the early phase of COVID-19 outbreak between end of January and mid-March, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said she really wishes to know the stage at which the virus started to spread to the community and within migrant worker groups. She said this during a video interview with Lianhe Zaobao on Saturday (25 April).
She was responding to a reporter’s question on whether there is any room for improving the measures implemented over the last two months to curb the spread of the virus.
Ms Teo, who is part of the Multi-Ministry Task Force tasked with combating the pandemic, noted, “I have been thinking over and over again, especially in the dead of night, about what could be done better when implementing the prevention measures against the growing cluster in migrant workers’ dormitories.”
Given the fears of imported cases of COVID-19, she pointed out that the Government was focused on preventing the virus from being imported from abroad and had asked all the work pass holders who returned to Singapore to serve stay-home-notices since early February, though this was later extended to include all returnees from other countries as well.
“As you may remember, in early February, we had already imposed mandatory Stay-at-Home Notice for those who returned to Singapore and was strictly implemented.
“Later, not only did we have to be cautious about returning migrant workers or Singaporeans from China, we also had to worry about returning Singaporeans from all around the world.”
Ms Teo went on to say, “If possible, I really wish to know at which stage the infection has already spread to community and migrant workers group? If time can be rewound, this is what I wish I could know.”
She added that if the Government could see such a spread, it wouldn’t have waited till April to implement the circuit breaker.
“I estimate that it could have been initiated two weeks earlier,” remarked the Minister.
Ms Teo continued that from research by experts, they now know that the infection wasn’t just an issue in migrant worker dormitories.
“We realised that many of the migrant workers have a common workplace, especially in the worksites, those from the construction industry,” she stated, explaining that construction sites became a channel for transmission was workers shared the same tools.
Noting that Singapore was still active before the circuit breaker measures were implemented, Ms Teo asserted, “When the workers rest in the weekends, we also cannot ask them to stay at their dormitories.”
She added, “Because the whole of Singapore is still carrying on with their activities, on what reason can we demand that they [migrant workers] just stay put in their dorms? After all, they still need to work.”
Ms Teo then suggested that precautions should be carried out simultaneously at migrant workers’ dormitories, construction sites, and leisure facilities to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
She also mentioned that after the COVID-19 situation stabilises, the Government should undertake a comprehensive review on the living conditions of migrant workers and the treatment they received, as well as the national healthcare monitoring system, and be responsible in facing the problem.
During an interview with BBC last Wednesday (22 April), Ms Teo hinted that of the 10 million migrant workers in Southeast Asia, “a fraction of them” are in Singapore.
Though she confessed that the Government are not perfect, she remarked, “we do what we can”.
“Yes, we took some safe distancing measures within the dormitories and if we were to be able to rewind the clock, one could say that these safe distancing measures needed to go much further.”