Covid-19 assault persists on Singapore's foreign workers

Top News | AP, AFP 21 Apr 2020

Singapore reported a record 1,426 new coronavirus cases yesterday, mostly among foreign workers, pushing its total number of confirmed infections to 7,984.

The city-state now has the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia, a massive increase from just 200 infections on March 15, when its outbreak appeared to be nearly under control.

About 3,000 cases have been reported in just the past three days.

Low-wage migrant workers, a vital part of the country's workforce, now account for at least 60 percent of infections.

More than 200,000 workers from Bangladesh, India and other poorer Asian countries live in tightly packed dormitories. Clusters of infections have expanded rapidly in the dorms after they were overlooked in the government's earlier health measures.

Social distancing is impossible in the dorms, which house up to 20 men per room with a shared kitchen, toilets and other facilities. Most work in construction, shipping and maintenance jobs.

Over half of the 43 registered dormitories have been declared isolation areas where workers have been quarantined. Several thousand other workers have been moved to other locations to reduce crowding.

The government expects cases to rise further as testing at dorms continues, but hopes the country's partial lockdown until May 4, mandatory mask wearing and strict social distancing will help curb the spread of the virus.

Wong said the government has ordered construction workers who live outside the dorms to be quarantined at home until May 4.

Labor advocates earlier warned that confinement en mass in dorms may put the workers at greater risk. Some also say the pace of testing - reportedly less than 3,000 a day - cannot keep up with infections and that many thousands of workers live outside the 43 registered dorms.

The foreign workers typically toil for long hours, earning US$400 (HK$3,120) to US$500 a month building skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the vast majority of cases among migrant workers are mild since most of the men are young. Despite the high number of cases, Singapore has only recorded 11 deaths, among the lowest in the region.

Following criticism of poor living conditions in the dorms, the government moved thousands of workers to other sites, including apartments and floating accommodation usually used in offshore industries, to try to lessen the chances of infection.

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