47 per cent migrant workers in dorms have had COVID-19; some will have access to community once a month under pilot next year

About 152,794 migrant workers living in dormitories have had the COVID-19 virus, which is 47 per cent of the 323,000 total migrant workers, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (14 December).

Of those, 54,505 dormitory residents had a positive result from a polymerase chain reaction or PCR test, while another 98,289 were tested positive from a serology test –- a test for past infection –- as of Sunday (13 December).

This brings the total number of infected workers in dormitories to 152,794 for both PCR and serology, said the ministries in a joint statement.

The ministries stated that serology tests for about 65,000 are still being carried out.

“This will give us the full picture of the infection prevalence among our migrant workers,” they said.

Citing a study of workers in purpose-built dorms who tested positive on 25 July, the ministries noted that the vast majority of migrant workers in dorms who tested positive from the PCR or serology test were asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms.

MOH and MOM noted that only one in five of migrant workers living in such dorms had symptoms, while the rest had very mild or no symptoms, as reported by The Straits Times.

The ratio of those who are PCR-positive to serology-positive is 1:1.8 – for every COVID-19 infection in the dormitories detected through PCR testing, while another 1.8 untested cases were identified only through serology testing.

“This is not surprising as many migrant workers did not have any symptoms, and thus would not have sought treatment and received a PCR test in the process,” said the ministries.

However, the ministries also announced that migrant workers in some dormitories will gain access to the community once a month under a pilot scheme in the first quarter of next year, as reported by CNA.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier announced that Singapore is set to enter Phase Three of its post-COVID circuit breaker reopening on 28 December.

“With the transition into Phase 3, we are preparing to return migrant workers to the community in a controlled manner, with strict measures in place,” said the health and manpower ministries.

“We will start a pilot scheme in the first quarter of 2021 to allow migrant workers in some dormitories to access the community once a month, subject to compliance with rostered routine testing (RRT), wearing of contact tracing devices and safe living measures,” they added.

Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said at a press conference by the multi-ministry taskforce on Monday that migrant workers will be allowed access to communal facilities in their dormitories, such as cooking stations and sports facilities.

Dr Tan noted that workers will also be allowed to visit recreational centres more often for their daily needs, such as going to the barber or making remittances.

“We are also working with recreational centres to bring in more activities including movies, sports screenings and some pasar malam perhaps,” he added.

Nevertheless, migrant workers living in dormitories will still need to undergo routine testing for the COVID-19 and are required to wear their contact-tracing devices, the BluePass tokens.

Dr Tan said the rules would also be applied to migrant workers from the construction, marine and process sectors.

He added that the distribution of contact-tracing devices to more than 450,000 workers living in dormitories –- including those working in the construction, marine and process industries –- is expected to be completed by the end of December.

“COVID-19 will remain a threat for some time. The risk of transmission, especially from those with no or mild symptoms, remains,” said Dr Tan.

“The fight against the re-emergence of Covid-19 in the dormitories is the shared responsibility of migrant workers, employers, dormitory operators and the Government.”

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