As authorities continue to battle the spread of the corona virus in Singapore, the government has appeared eager to stress that the bulk of the cases have been within the migrant worker community in Singapore.
In a press conference on the 9th of April, Lawrence Wong had said that it was “important to realise and recognise that we are dealing with two separate infections” — one rising among migrant workers, and a more stable situation among the rest of the population. A later update, shared by the minister on Facebook, separated migrant worker cases from imported and community cases”
By dividing the cases between “migrant worker cases” and and “community spread”, authorities may be unwittingly creating division even as it pledges to take care of migrant workers like Singaporeans. As former organising secretary for the Workers’ Party Bernard Chen has observed – the categorisation of COVID-19 cases between those in the Singapore “community” and those in migrant worker dormitories will potentially fuel racism and discrimination against the latter after the circuit breaker measures end. The divisive picture painted by the categorisation will lead to the growing perception that those not “in the community” are “infectious and dangerous”.
Segregation aside, it is important to note that the total number of corona virus cases in Singapore remain high and for a densely populated small country like ours, this can be concerning. This could be perhaps why authorities are keen to differentiate between “migrant worker cases” and “community spread” as a means to reassure the general public and to prevent panic.
However, given how geographically small we are, this differentiation is artificial. As Jeremy Lim, a professor and the co-director of global health at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health has said: “If we cannot contain the dormitory or the migrant worker outbreaks, it will inevitably spill back into the general population because Singapore is just so small and compact.”
Has this already begun to happen?
According to an update given by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on 17 May, out of the 682 new COVID-19 cases, five of were community transmissions involving four Singapore/permanent residents and one work pass holder.
One of the Singaporeans infected was a 24-year old man, Case 27603, who works at the CDPL Tuas Dormitory. While he had reported an onset of symptoms on 10 May, he continued going to work at the dormitory before his test came back positive on 16 May. This is the second known case of a Singaporean linked to this dormitory cluster. The first was a 48-year old man, Case 24831, who was confirmed to be infected on 12 May.
Just yesterday, we have yet another two cases of Singaporeans linked to dormitory clusters. Case 29563 worked at Jurong Penjuru Dormitory and Case 29743 at Cochrane Lodge II. Both are isolated dormitories.
Four other family members of Case 29743 are also infected and linked to the Cochrane Lodge II cluster.
Have four of these men interacted with the community while carrying the virus? Have they mingled with people on public transport or with family members or people at supermarkets etc? From Case 29743, it is clear that it is not possible to avoid community transmission relating to dormitories.
This also indicates the possibility of a second wave of infections in Singapore as the country eases circuit breaker measures and starts going back to ‘normal’ even as the 25 migrant worker dormitories are still isolated.
The idea that the coronavirus spread can somehow be neatly segregated into two separate infections as claimed by the government is quite possibly a distracting fallacy.