There will be time to review what could have been done better after the dust settles, said Singapore’s Ambassador to the US Ashok Kumar Mirpuri in a letter to the Washington Post on 5 May regarding the migrant worker issue here which has taken centre stage in the country’s pandemic crisis.
The letter by Mr Mirpuri was in response to a news article by the Washington Post titled “Migrant workers bear the brunt of Singapore’s outbreak”. The article noted that the massive outbreak in the migrant worker population in Singapore – which makes up about 80 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country – highlights the vulnerability of these workers.
The article further highlighted that the risk of infection within this population is exacerbated by overcrowded living quarters, poor nutrition, limited access to health care and personal protective equipment, low wages and, in some cases, discrimination.
It also quoted a 27-year-old Bangladeshi national named Shekor who said in a phone interview, “Everything is so difficult for everybody here.”
Shekor, who is living in a dormitory of 25,000 where hundred have been infected, added, “It seems like they only take the most serious ones to hospital; the normal ones like me, no one takes care of us.”
In his letter, Mr Mirpuri said that the outbreak of coronavirus infections in migrant worker dormitories occurred despite steps the Government had asked dorm operators to take since January. This includes ensuring safe distancing, step up cleaning, suspend nonessential communal activities, require temperature checks, distribute hand sanitizer, and segregate residents from different dormitory blocks.
“Unfortunately, the measures proved insufficient,” said the ambassador.
He went on to say that the focus now should be on dealing with the ongoing outbreak and providing workers with assurance and healthcare, which includes extensive testing. The latter is reflected in the high number of cases reported, he said.
The ambassador added, “We have set up medical posts in all the dormitories with clusters of infections. All migrant workers with fevers or respiratory symptoms receive timely treatment, including intensive care should they need it, at no charge.”
Beyond that, Mr Mirpuri also noted that the Government is catering three meals a day for the workers and are providing financial support to their employers to help fund the upkeep of workers and ensure they continue to receive their wages. The Government has also arranged remittance services, free internet access, as well as community partners to help provide emotional and social support.
“We are enabling Muslim workers to observe Ramadan and celebrate Eid al-Fitr, just as we celebrated the new year with Indian workers,” he added.
Mr Mirpuri stressed that the Government feels a “deep responsibility” to take care of these migrant workers.
“When the dust has settled, there will be time for a thorough review of what must change and how we could have done better.
“For now, our focus must be to win the fight against the coronavirus.”