The number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore have soared over the last few weeks with majority of cases reported among migrant workers living in large-scale dormitories. On Monday (4 May), the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed another 573 cases of the infection, bringing the country’s total toll to 18, 778 so far.
The infection had escalated among the country’s massive migrant workers’ population, which prompted the Government to gazette 25 dormitories as isolation areas so far.
The deadly coronavirus outbreak seems to have uncovered the cramped and unsanitary environments that migrant workers in Singapore have been enduring for years, a revelation that has drawn attention from many international news outlets. Their living conditions have caused the highly contagious virus to spread like wildfire among them.
In fact, MOH said that 15, 833 of the 323, 000 migrant workers living in dormitories—4.9 percent— have been infected with COVID-19. On the other hand, 569 migrant workers living outside of dormitories and 1,224 Singaporeans and permanent residents, have also been tested positive for the virus.
As such, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong asked in Parliament yesterday (4 May) if the Government would think of apologising to migrant workers for the “dismal conditions” at the dormitories.
“Will the Government consider issuing an apology to the migrant workers, given the dismal conditions that they are currently in, because the conditions of the dormitories and all the other conditions? Especially now that they’re in complete lockdown, for the sake and safety of Singaporeans,” she asked.
In response to this, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that not even a single worker came up to the Ministry demanding for an apology over the virus outbreak at the dormitories.
She explained that their focus right now is how the Government can help them to handle the current situation, as well as how not to fall sick, and if they do, how to ensure their salaries are paid so they can send money home.
“We interact very closely with the workers themselves, on a very regular basis at the dormitories, and even outside the dormitories whenever I’ll ask team, you know, follow up on their requests and feedback,” she noted.
She added, “I think what they’re focused on is how we can help them to handle this present situation, not to fall sick, and if they fall sick, help take care of them, how to look after their wages being paid, how to ensure that they can send money home. These are the things they have asked of us.”
Mixed reactions from online users
After hearing Ms Teo’s response on this matter, online users voiced mixed reactions on whether the Government should consider issuing an apology to migrant workers.
Penning their thoughts in the Facebook page and YouTube channel of Channel News Asia, a large number of them slammed the Minister for not saying sorry for her Ministry’s shortcomings in dealing with the migrant workers’ situation. They explained the Government lack accountability, empathy and outright “arrogant” for not saying sorry for “screw(ing) up big time”.
One user wrote, “Not only must the government apologize for high concentration of workers in dormitory room, they must work towards achieving a humane concentration of workers per room for every foreign worker.”
Additionally, some online users highlighted that an apology should not be demanded, and it should be uttered if the Government think they have committed a mistake.
They also said that it’s impossible for migrant workers to come forward and ask for an apology from the Government or dorm operators as they risk the consequences of being sued or other “repercussions it entails”.
However, another group of netizens pointed out that the poor living conditions at the dormitories are the results of the workers residing in the dorms, their employers, as well as the dorm operators, and not the Government.
They explained that it is the migrant workers’ responsibilities to ensure that they clean their rooms so they live in a hygienic environment.
Separately, a number of netizens also slammed NMP Anthea Ong for asking such a question as they claim that the Government should not apologise to the migrant workers given that they have done a lot for them.