Circuit breaker: Close to 20,000 workers quarantined as 2 dormitories in S'pore gazetted as isolation areas

Foreign workers are not at higher risk than locals, measures will be taken to reduce risk of transmission within dorms.

Zhangxin Zheng | April 05, 2020, 08:13 PM

At the press conference on April 5, the multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) reports 120 more new cases in Singapore, bringing the total number to 1,309.



This is the first time Singapore reports a three-digit surge in new cases.

Surge in cases at workers' dormitories despite enhanced measures

Of these, a significant number came from foreign worker dormitories, despite enhanced measures being implemented at all dormitories since the start of Covid-19 outbreak.

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo related some of these measures which include closing all non-essential common facilities, stopping intermingling between blocks as well as having staggered meal hours and recreation time.

Despite these measures, 22 more new cases have been reported from S11 Dormitory @ Punggol (2 Seletar North Link) and another 10 have been reported from Westlite Toh Guan dormitory (18 Toh Guan Road East).

These are the two biggest clusters among all affected workers' dormitories with a total of 63 patients linked to S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and 28 patients linked to Westlite Toh Guan dormitory as of April 5.

Circuit breaker measures for foreign workers

As Singapore enters a "circuit breaker" mode, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the MTF, said that a "dedicated strategy" will apply to "respective categories" of local cases to reduce transmission of Covid-19 in the community.

Teo added that the foreign workers are "part of the essential workforce" and circuit breaker measures apply not just to Singapore citizens, but also foreign workers who are here, helping our economy, and their employers.

"We want to give foreign workers the assurance that these measures are taken in their interests, and their well being," Teo said.

Wong also reminded the public that "foreign workers are not of higher risk than locals".

"The issue we're facing here is that the foreign worker dorms have emerged as new clusters, despite the precautions we have already taken, and that's why we have focused on the foreign worker dormitories in the whole of Singapore," he added.

Close to 20,000 workers isolated at gazetted dormitories

With this latest development, Teo announced "two major steps forward" in a bit to contain the spread at these dormitories and to safeguard public health:

  1. The two most affected dormitories have been gazetted by MOM as isolation areas.
  2. More safe distancing measures to be rolled out at all other dormitories in Singapore.

2 dormitories gazetted as isolation areas

This move will affect close to 20,000 workers living in S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan dormitory.

Teo said that 13,000 people at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and 6,800 at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory, including workers and operators, have to stay in their dormitories while serving their quarantine order.

Teo said that a relatively small number of these workers are essential services providers, and they will be housed separately.

Teo said that within the dormitories more precautions will be taken to ensure minimal interactions such as reducing intermingling between floors within the same block, noting that these workers are like family and interact with each other regularly.

Workers will have to make adjustments during this "circuit breaker" period as changes are made to how they are housed and their daily routines.

The number of people staying in the dormitories will be reduced and those who are unwell, even if they are not tested positive, will be relocated into isolated sick bays.

Food, necessities and medical support taken care of

Teo also provided assurance to both workers and employers that MOM is looking out for them during this period.

On wages, a common understanding has been established that the absence of work from these affected workers will be treated as paid hospitalisation leave.

MOM will assist the employers to ensure that quarantined workers continue to be paid.

During the isolation period, three meals will be provided to all affected workers for free and they will get essentials such as masks, thermometers, hand sanitisers and snacks to lift their spirits.

MOM will also facilitate remittance service as well as medical support on-site for these workers.

Last night, the High Commissioner of India in Singapore, Minister of Communications and Information, S. Iswaran, as well as Senior Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, had also visited Westlite Papan Dormitory to address any concerns that workers might have during this period.

Top photo via India in Singapore (High Commission of India, Singapore)'s Facebook