'The way S'pore treats its foreign workers is not First World but Third World': Tommy Koh on Covid-19 clusters in dormitories

"Time bomb waiting to explode."

Sulaiman Daud | April 06, 2020, 01:09 PM

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Singapore Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh has strongly criticised the poor conditions of foreign worker dormitories that led to a sharp jump in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19.

In a Facebook post on Apr. 6, Koh said the dormitories were like a "time bomb waiting to explode", and added:

"The way Singapore treats its foreign workers is not First World but Third World."

Koh said the workers stay in overcrowded dormitories and are packed "like sardines" with 12 people in one room.

He added that the dormitories were not clean and sanitary, and criticised the government for allowing the employers of foreign workers to transport them in flat bed trucks with no seats.

Workers from S11 @ Punggol said their dormitories were unsanitary

Koh was referring to an article published by the Straits Times (ST) on Apr. 6.

Six workers interviewed by ST from S11 dormitory @ Punggol, which has now been isolated as a health measure, said that the rooms are "infested with cockroaches" and the "toilets are overflowing."

They added that they had to queue up for food with no safe distancing measures.

In his post, Koh said:

"Singapore should treat this as a wake up call to treat our indispensable foreign workers like a First World country should and not in the disgraceful way in which they are treated now."

He added that he felt angry when he saw foreign workers sitting on the ground to eat lunch, and said he saw exhausted foreign workers lying on the ground to rest.

The post, which has garnered over 1,000 reactions, can be seen below:

Could become "petri dish"

Donald Low, former associate dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, referred to the same ST article and said that if not managed properly, the dormitories could become Singapore's version of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which saw people staying close together experience a high number of Covid-19 cases.

Said Low:

"If not managed properly, the FW dorms could become our Diamond Princess, which was described as a "petri dish" for the virus. About 700 people out of the 3,711 people on board the Diamond Princess tested positive."

You can see the post below:

Health and safety measures introduced

According to Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in a press conference on Apr. 5, the government has in fact implemented some health and safety measures at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, it has stepped up safe distancing measures to stagger meal times and recreation hours, and put in place measures to restrict "intermingling" between blocks.

After the announcement of the sharp rise in cases in S11 and Westlite Toh Guan dormitories on Apr. 5, Teo announced more measures.

The two dormitories have been gazetted as isolation areas.

Teo also explained that all the worker residing in the two dormitories will be under 14-day quarantine in their existing accommodation.

In other words, all the affected workers will not go to work and would have to remain in their existing rooms.

Other dormitories will introduce the following measures:

  • Housing workers who perform essential services separately, including moving them out of dormitories.
  • Reduce interactions between floors, not just blocks.
  • Thin out the number of people in dormitories, and maximise use of space.
  • Workers who are unwell, even if they do not test positive for the virus, will be relocated and housed in sick bays.

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Top image by Sulaiman Daud and Google Maps.