Given that the Government has announced that there are no new COVID-19 cases detected in migrant worker dormitories on most days since October, there is no need for these workers to be treated like prisoners by locking them in the dorms, Alex Au of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said to BBC.
Mr Au said this after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed on Monday (14 December) that close to 152,794 migrant workers living in dormitories have had the COVID-19 virus, which is 47 percent of the 323,000 total migrant workers.
Based on this number, the migrant labour’s rights group said that it is “unsurprised” to learn that nearly half of the migrant workers in the country have been infected with the deadly coronavirus in the past nine month.
Without including the migrant workers, lesser than 4,000 people have tested positive in Singapore. These workers, who have been living in cramped dormitories, have been quarantined in their dorms and not allowed to be out in the community since April following the spike in cases among them.
“There is no justification for Singapore to treat migrant workers like prisoners,” said Mr Au. “Many have been locked in for eight months.”
Cases among migrant workers may still go up
MOM and MOH revealed in a joint statement on Monday that 54,505 dormitory residents had a positive result from a polymerase chain reaction of 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. This figure makes up almost half of the 323,000 migrant workers living in dorms across the city-state.
While the 54,505 positive cases among dorm residents were made known to public previously, but the 98,289 positive cases were only released by the Government on Monday.
MOH had earlier revealed in August that all migrant workers in the country have been tested for COVID-19 at least once, with either of the two types of tests.
Anyone who have tested positive for the virus will be isolated, along with those who have been found to only have carried the virus in the past, MOH said.
However, with some 65,000 workers’ serology tests still pending, the percentage may still go up, BBC reported.
“These new figures don’t surprised us. During the middle of the year, workers who tested positive were telling us that they were told to stay in their rooms and not taken into isolation. They remained in contact with their room-mates,” noted Mr Au.
He continued, “But this is history. We’re more concerned that Singapore continues to treat the workers as prisoners even though the same statement by the ministry says that ‘since October, no new cases were detected in the dormitories on many days’.”
Since the active infection rate is virtually zero and these workers are tested every two weeks, there is no need for the Government to place such strict restrictions on them, Mr Au argued.
He also explained that even healthy workers are only permitted to leave their dorms and be taken to their work sites and sometimes to designated shops near their dorms.
“Workers are still interned and treated like prisoners, used for their labour with no freedom of movement.”
TOC have also spoken to some migrant workers and understands that they have been made to stay within their rooms for the past couple of months since April this year with only their phone as a mean to communicate with their family and friends, and to pass time.
Many of whom are not paid the full salary but allowances to pay for their living expenses.
One such worker from India, told TOC that he had just arrived in Singapore when the lockdown occured and he has not been able to send any money back to his family till today.
On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong 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.