With 618 new COVID-19 cases reported on 25 April, which then brought the total to 12,693 cases in Singapore, Singapore citizens could not help but to further question the government’s decision on handling the issue revolving migrant workers here.
A WhatsApp message had been circulating among locals, stated the events that suggested why the People’s Action Party (PAP) had failed Singapore and the migrant workers who contributed to the nation.
The message listed events that dated back to mid-February, saying how the entire exponential boom in Singapore’s COVID-19 cases among migrant workers was related to the inadequate decisions made by the Ministry of Manpower.
The timeline is off though. The foreign worker mentioned in the message should be Case 69, a 26 year-old Bangladesh national who is a Singapore Work Pass holder and was warded in an isolation room at NCID. He is linked to the cluster at Seletar Aerospace Heights construction site.
He had been identified as a close contact of Cases 42, 47, 52 and 56, and had been quarantined at a government quarantine facility from 11 February. He reported onset of symptoms that night and was conveyed by ambulance to NCID on 14 February. Subsequent test results confirmed COVID-19 infection on 15 February morning.
There was no foreign national who has been confirmed as infected on between 17 and 18 Feb.
As for the cluster, Case 69 is the last migrant worker who was linked to the Seletar Aerospace Heights construction site. The next cluster that involved migrant workers was identified as S11 dormitory @ Punggol on 29 March, case 826 and case 829.
However, the point of the message is about how majority of the infected patients in Singapore are migrant workers who live in dormitories. The first two migrant workers who were tested COVID-19 positive was reported as early as 12 February.
According to the Straits Times, following the confirmation of the first migrant worker’s infection, several of his roommates at The Leo Dormitory at Kaki Bukit had been served quarantine.
As news continued to unfold the severity of transmission among migrant workers, employers rushed to send their migrant workers who were unwell to the hospital for a COVID-19 swab test.
On 19 February, the divisional director of the Ministry of Manpower’s management division, Kevin Teoh, warned employers to not send their employees to hospitals, unless there was a medical emergency. This statement was made after he received feedback from hospitals that workers were being sent to be tested for COVID-19.
Apart from preventing migrant workers from receiving medical attention, Mr Teoh had also warned that “employers who act irresponsibly by misusing medical facilities may have their work pass privileges suspended”.
Seeing how the warning posed a threat to their livelihood in Singapore, everyone kept quiet until the massive outbreak erupted.
A migrant worker in the interview with the BBC host revealed that the isolation should have been done sooner and that they are living in fear knowing that they are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Since there had been reports of asymptomatic transmissions of COVID-19, in retrospect, it could mean that “healthy” people could be the carriers of the coronavirus back when MOM barred anyone “healthy” from being tested.
Of the more than 11,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases currently in Singapore, some 80% are migrant workers living in the numerous dormitories across Singapore, with incidents of local transmission within the rest of the community still occurring despite government telling Singaporeans to stay home.
In a media interview, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo responded feebly to the massive coronavirus outbreak among migrant workers saying Singapore only has a fraction of them working here.
“There are in Southeast Asia alone about 10 million migrant workers. A fraction of them in Singapore. We’re not perfect but we do what we can,” she said.
“Yes, we took some safe distancing measures within the dormitories and if we were to be able to rewind the clock, one could say that these safe distancing measures needed to go much further.”
Should the government had known that the migrant workers’ dormitories are a gigantic breeding ground for COVID-19, would they have done more to contain the spread in the earlier stages?
Not only that the government did not apologise for the mishandling of the outbreak in dormitories, but they also refused to own up to their mishaps in containing the coronavirus.
There are also hundreds of cases among Work Permit holders unrelated to the dormitory clusters as they are residing outside dormitories.
If the outbreak did not occur among migrant workers’ dormitories, would the outbreak in Singapore be as enormous as it is today?