The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Tuesday (28 April) that migrant workers who are living in dormitories with high number of COVID-19 cases will be placed in isolation first if they are unwell, even if they have not been tested for the virus yet.
The Ministry explained that everyone needs to be tested sooner or later but right now the main priority is to isolate them in order to stop the spread of the deadly virus to others.
“We eventually will need to test all of them but the first priority is really to get them out, make sure they are properly isolated, given the high rate of infection within those dormitories,” said MOH’s director of medical services Associate Professor Kenneth Mak.
He added that strategies may vary across the dormitories as it depends on the rate of infection, however he noted that isolating those who are already showing symptoms is the key way to stem the virus’ train of transmission.
“We’ve also seen in some dormitories that practically every foreign worker who presents to our medical team with symptoms of acute respiratory syndrome tests positive… Therefore in those dormitories where the rate of infection is very high, it makes a lot of sense for us then to have as a priority, ensuring that all symptomatic foreign workers are isolated and taken away from their roommates,” he said.
He continued, “We use testing a lot more strategically to target those dormitories where we are intending to find out a little more about where the level of infection is within them, as well as to focus on (dormitories with isolated cases) because that is where the chances of success are greatest in trying to disrupt the chain of transmission.”
Assoc Prof Mak went on to assert that locating active cases and isolating its closes contacts will also aid in breaking the chain of transmission.
If that’s not all, he explained that migrant workers who are symptomatic are generally still very healthy, and most of them display just minimal symptoms.
“Therefore, most of the times when we place them in these isolation facilities and we keep a close eye on them, there isn’t really much else we need to do other than the monitoring we put in place. That is our priority.”
On Tuesday, MOH confirmed an additional 528 positive cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 14,951.
Of the new cases, only seven were among Singaporeans or permanent residents, while the rest were Work Permit holders residing in migrant worker dormitories. In fact, the majority of COVID-19 cases in the city-state are among migrant workers living in dormitories.
Assoc Prof Mak explained that the move to monitor workers with symptoms who have not been tested yet could mean that the real number of cases of the deadly virus in dormitories is a lot higher than the number of cases that MOH officially releases in its daily updates.
“But there will always be a catch-up, because once we are able to settle these priorities, we will come around to make sure they are properly tested, because we want to make sure that they indeed do have an infection and confirm that, so that we can make a decision on whether to return them to the community of foreign workers in the dormitories when they recover,” he said.
He emphasised that, “It’s not an issue of fudging or dodging or trying to hide numbers. It’s really a question of making sure that our priority in testing matches the needs on the ground and making sure that we report as transparently as we can.”