Migrant workers’ dorms become COVID-19 hotspots in Singapore

Bangkok, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Singapore, which was hailed for its efforts to contain COVID-19, is now seeing a surge in infections linked to dormitories crammed with migrant workers.

On Wednesday, 447 new coronavirus cases were reported in the city-state, the highest increase in daily infections so far, out of which 404 were among foreign workers living in dorms, according to the health ministry’s latest data.

At least 1,800 out of the total 3,699 cases in Singapore are linked to these dorms.

Singapore, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, has a population of just over 5.6 million and relies heavily on foreign labor for manual and less skilled jobs, such as construction.

There are an estimated 200,000 workers, mostly from the Indian subcontinent, living in 43 dormitories, of which 17 have been identified as hotspots, and nine of them have been designated as “isolation areas” in which residents cannot even leave their rooms.

Local and international human rights organizations say that in many of these dorms, the workers live in cramped and unsanitary conditions.

“Confinement en masse in dormitories is a risky strategy. […] As is now common knowledge, these dorms are designed for very high density. Social distancing is impossible with many workers sharing a room,” Transient Workers Count Too, a non-profit organization in Singapore dedicated to improving conditions for low-wage migrant workers, said in a statement.

The non-profit has also criticized the low number of coronavirus tests carried out among foreign workers and the fact that the government has allowed the companies that hire them to cut their salaries by up to 25 percent.

Non-profit Amnesty International had also warned on Apr. 6 that “the fact that thousands of migrant workers are now under quarantine in extremely close proximity could be a recipe for disaster, unless their basic rights are respected.”

Meanwhile, the government is preparing new accommodation for the workers such as Terminal 5 of the Changi airport, vacant buildings and even floating accommodations commonly used in the marine and off-shore industry, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

Singapore, which was one of the first countries to detect COVID-19 outside China – the source of the pandemic – acted swiftly to impose restrictions on travelers from the worst-hit countries and used technology to efficiently track the movements of the infected.

It also closed schools and entertainment outlets, among other measures, for which it came to be cited as an example for the world to follow by experts of the World Health Organization. EFE-EPA


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