During a virtual news conference yesterday (8 Jun), Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong told the media that community cases have increased, a week after the end of Singapore’s circuit breaker period (‘Wong: Community cases up but situation under control‘). However, the situation remains under control, he assured.
The jump in cases is partly due to a stepped-up testing regime, and the new daily cases are within expectations, said Wong, who is one of the 2 co-chairmen of the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) had said that the number of new cases in the community increased to an average of eight per day last week, compared with four the week before.
The other co-chairman, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, warned that with more cases expected in the coming days and weeks, it is important to mitigate the risks with basic hygiene practices and precautions.
Community transmission remains a concern, MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak added.
New Zealand PM declares virus victory
Meanwhile, 8,500km away yesterday, New Zealand lifted all domestic coronavirus restrictions after its final COVID-19 patient was given the all clear, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealing she danced around her living room when told about the good news (‘Joyful PM Ardern declares New Zealand virus victory‘).
There have been no new infections in New Zealand for 17 days and, until yesterday, just one active case for more than a week.
PM Ardern told everyone that restrictions such as social distancing and limits on public gatherings were no longer needed. “We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now,” she said in a televised address, saying Kiwis had “united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus”.
With the restrictions lifted, that means nightclubs can operate and theaters will reopen. It also means sporting events can proceed with crowds in the stands.
PM Ardern also added that easing restrictions would help New Zealand’s economy. She said, “We now have a head start on economic recovery because at level one we become one of the most open, if not the most open, economies in the world.”
New Zealand with roughly about the same population as Singapore had only 1,154 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths.
PM Ardern said the sacrifices made by New Zealanders, including a drastic seven-week lockdown that helped curb infection rates, had been rewarded now that there were no active cases in the country.
But in Singapore, despite a 2 months of lockdown, confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to emerge at few hundreds a day. Just yesterday, Singapore reported 386 new COVID-19 cases.
How did New Zealand do it?
So how did New Zealand do it? For one thing, New Zealand doesn’t have 1 million foreign workers residing there.
The vast majority of cases in Singapore come from overcrowded dormitories that house more than 300,000 of Singapore’s roughly 1 million foreign workers. Singapore’s COVID-19 cases is now the highest in Southeast Asia.
It is interesting to note that in New Zealand, the Kiwis themselves are willing to work in industries like construction, thereby mitigating the pressure to hire foreign workers, unlike the case in Singapore’s construction industry.
A news article in 2018 reported that the number of young Kiwis wanting to work in construction was “breaking records”.
In the year to May 2018, only 8089 work visas for construction jobs were approved for foreign workers to work in New Zealand. Of the 8089, 4608 came from the Philippines, followed by 798 from Great Britain, 618 from China and 252 from Ireland.
“A lot of them (foreign workers) are now actually in positions where they’re helping young Kiwis learn their job,” Scaffolding, Rigging & Access NZ chief executive Graham Burke told the media.
So, why would the Kiwis want to work in the construction industry? A check on the salaries of the various construction jobs at the New Zealand government website should give a clue:
- Bricklayer: NZ$19-25 per hour (up to 5 years’ experience), NZ$25-60 per hour (over 5 years’ experience)
- Building Surveyor: NZ$50K-65K per year (new), NZ$90-160K per year (managerial)
- Plasterer: NZ$19-22 per hour (new), $22-$30 per hour (experienced)
- Wall and Floor Tilers: NZ$19-25 per hour (up to 3 years’ experience), NZ$25-35 per hour (more than 3 years’ experience)
- Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers: NZ$19-41 per hour
- Electrician: NZ$24-38 per hour
And in Singapore, a basic pay of a construction worker was reported by non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) to be only S$520 a month.