'Just pray, very soon I can get well': Migrant workers from dorms battle on

'Just pray, very soon I can get well': Migrant workers from dorms battle on

Some things have changed — while others have not — since the first foreign-worker dormitories were declared to be isolation areas nearly two weeks ago.

A photo taken by Subramaniam Pugalandi, a migrant worker in Singapore, with his wife and son.
Subramaniam Pugalandi with his wife and son. (Photo: Subramaniam Pugalandi)

SINGAPORE: Last week, he was panicking “only a little bit” while waiting out his quarantine in a dormitory room. But when Subramaniam Pugalandi became sick in the wee hours of Monday, he cried in fear.

The migrant worker just knew, even before any tests were done, that he had COVID-19.

As he was taken to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases to be tested, the resident of S11 Dormitory @ Punggol thought about his wife and four-year-old son. He felt that there was a “question mark” over his future.

But once warded, Pugal met his hospital roommate — a Bangladeshi worker who had been admitted just two days prior, and was ready to be moved to the community isolation facility at the Singapore Expo.

Pugal with his hospital roommate, a Bangladeshi who also had Covid-19.
Pugal with his hospital roommate.

“He said, ‘Same virus-fever. Now I’m okay already'," recounted Pugal. “I saw that his body temperature, everything, was okay. Then I believed in myself.”

The 35-year-old Indian national is now at the Singapore Expo too, with a cough and a slightly low potassium level, but no more fever, runny nose or body aches. And in the airy hall, he can finally walk around.

“It looks like a luxury hotel. Everything’s okay,” he said. “It’s better than the hospital, and better than the quarantine room.”

Pugal first touched CNA Insider viewers' hearts when he spoke of his worries during his time in quarantine, watching as his roommates fell sick.

WATCH: Life In Isolation: Inside Singapore's Foreign Worker Dormitories During COVID-19 (7:18)

GROWING WORRIES

For other affected workers that CNA Insider stayed in touch with, some things have changed — while others have not — since the first foreign worker dormitories were declared to be isolation areas nearly two weeks ago.

Amin Mohammad Al, a resident at S11 Dormitory, has seen two roommates test positive for the novel coronavirus, and another person was also moved out after showing symptoms.

But he said his room, which has six occupants now, has not been disinfected.

READ: Battling fear and boredom, migrant workers grapple with isolation in dormitories

The rising number of confirmed cases in the dormitories has been a cause for concern, workers told CNA Insider. But they have tried to manage their emotions.

“If I worry too much, I can’t comfort my mum,” said Pangkil, who is at Sungei Tengah Lodge.

In the confines of his room, the residents have cooperated by, for example, maintaining a one-metre distance as best they can, he said. But this safe distancing is a problem when it comes to collecting their meals, lamented the Bangladeshi, who asked not to be identified by his real name.

Residents collecting their food at Sungei Tengah Lodge. (Source: 'Pangkil')
Residents collecting their food at Sungei Tengah Lodge on Apr 16 (Source: 'Pangkil')

“The security (personnel) give out the food at the staircase near the lift ... They say one person can carry everything. But (from) some rooms, they come in twos, threes or fours also, making it a very big gathering,” he said.

“Even if I (observe) a safe distance, other men don’t ... (Where) I stand, they also come near. Previously, (the food) was delivered to every room.”

WATCH: Week 2 updates of life in isolation (4:01)

LENDING SUPPORT

As it has been all week, most of the 623 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday were foreign workers in dormitories.

There are 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore housing 200,000 foreign workers. Some 7,000 of them working in essential services have been moved out to sites like military camps and floating accommodations. The latest facilities to be activated as an alternative living area are some of the ActiveSG sport halls.

READ: Singapore reports 623 new cases of COVID-19; one more person dies of the disease

READ: Some foreign workers to be housed in ActiveSG, Sports Hub halls

Meanwhile, some employers have been checking in on their workers via WhatsApp, and sending them messages of encouragement.

“Every day, they update me on their temperatures, so hopefully from there we’ll be able to see (who’s sick). But I know not everyone has the symptoms as well,” said Tabitha Lim, who is in human resources at Jerevin Industrial.

“One of my workers told me that he’s very scared, and that he’s feeling very cold. And so I (had to) calm him down.”

With testing in the dormitories stepped up, her company has seen seven of its workers — all from S11, which is Singapore’s biggest COVID-19 cluster — diagnosed with the coronavirus as of Thursday.

Pugal showing the tablet he uses to update his blood pressure readings, pulse rate and temperature.
Pugal showing the tablet he uses to update his blood pressure readings, pulse rate and temperature.

“Even though the testing as well as the segregation has come a bit late, I'm quite grateful that our authorities stepped up to do something. It's really a massive operation,” said Jerevin Industrial managing director Jeremiah Tan.

Some workers also spoke of the part they had to play.

Tamal, who is living in Sungei Tengah Lodge, is conscious of the need to wear a mask, for example. When asked if it was a directive from the dormitory management, he replied wryly, “No — instruction from the prime minister.”

Some of CNA Insider’s readers and viewers have posted messages of support for the workers after reading and watching the article and video about them last week.

In response to those who have offered him words of encouragement, Pugal said: “I want to thank all the, how to say, brothers and sisters who pray for me.

“Just pray ... Very soon, I can get well.”

The Community Isolation Facility for Covid-19 patients at the Singapore Expo and Max Atria.
The Community Isolation Facility for COVID-19 patients at the Singapore Expo and Max Atria. (Photo: Ministry of Health)

Source: CNA/dp

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