SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has implemented safe living, safe working and safe rest day measures in migrant worker dormitories to prevent the spread and formation of large COVID-19 clusters, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng on Wednesday (Sep 9).
He added that many dormitory residents have never been infected with COVID-19 and remain susceptible to the virus.
“We’ve put in place a multi-layered strategy to detect, as well as to contain any new infections, very quickly and very decisively. And obviously, the key thing is prevention so we put in place safe living, safe working, safe rest days," said Dr Tan at a multi-ministry task force press conference.
“These are measures that limit the intermixing of workers at the dormitories as well as worksites. And we also ensure that workers who are unwell, they are isolated quickly and treated, and this helps to prevent the spread and formation of large clusters.”
All dormitories were declared cleared of COVID-19 on Aug 11 but since then, there have been about 45 new infections daily, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
These were detected mainly through efforts such as the bi-weekly rostered routine testing, and through "aggressive tracing and testing" whenever a new case is detected, MOH said.
"About 2 per cent of these cases have positive serological tests, which indicate past infections," it added.
Rostered routine testing remains “the key hallmark” of MOM’s COVID-19 strategy in migrant worker dormitories, said Dr Tan, adding that it is “very definitive” in identifying workers who have contracted the coronavirus.
It is conducted every 14 days for every dormitory resident and worker in the construction, marine and process industries.
In early August, about 15 per cent of dormitory residents started rostered routine testing, Dr Tan said. As more workers went for testing, the number of new cases detected also went up around the third week of August, he noted.
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As of Wednesday, about 90 per cent of dormitory residents have been scheduled for routine resting, and the Manpower Ministry expects this to hit 100 per cent over the next few weeks, added Dr Tan.
"If they are found to be positive through our RRT, we quickly contain and isolate them. We ringfence them. We contain the spread by testing and isolating the close contacts," said Dr Tan.
“Very aggressive” testing operations in dormitories are also carried out based on the assessment of the potential risk of spread, enabling authorities to quickly isolate other cases in the dormitories, he added.
RE-EMERGENCE OF COVID-19 IN DORMITORIES
Addressing the re-emergence of COVID-19 in dormitories that were cleared in August, Dr Tan said that to date, more than 200 "re-emergent" dormitory sites have been “successfully contained”.
“For the majority of these sites, the number of re-emergent infections has been low, less than 10 each. And the re-emergent infection rate among those who have not been previously infected is low, at about 2 per cent.”
The Manpower Ministry also worked with MOH to develop a new Infection Prevention and Control framework, to enhance dormitory operators’ knowledge and standardise measures across all dormitories, he added.
This is on top of a checklist that is used for self-assessment.
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“We need the dorm operators, we need the employers, and we need the migrant workers to work together with us ... so that we can provide a safe working and living environment for workers to minimise the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Dr Tan.
When asked whether mingling between workers from different dormitories at worksites could be a possible reason for the new infections, Dr Tan said that up to 30 per cent of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic. Many of these cases recover after a while, and are discovered later via serology tests.
“So we believe that there are sort of simmering infections like this that are still happening, and that’s why we migrated to doing the RRT. Because that’s the only way in which we subject the entire population to repeated testing every 14 days.”
Dr Tan also noted that when a re-emergent COVID-19 case is found in a dormitory, the whole block is isolated and all residents living in that block are tested for COVID-19.
“We believe that this repeated testing, rostered routine, and that becomes part of our routine itself, will continue to allow us to weed out this thing and bring it under control.”
Responding to questions about the risk of clusters in dormitories spreading to the community as workers return to work, Dr Tan cited cohorting and safe distancing measures that have been put in place when the workers are transported or working at worksites, noting that there is “very clear segregation”.
“While we cannot completely eliminate the transmission risks, but these risks have been mitigated significantly downwards.”
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Acknowledging that there is a risk of community infections arising from migrant workers returning to work, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said: “You can imagine that previously these workers were in the dorm, and we (have) cleared the dorms. Now that we’ve cleared the dorms they are back to work and therefore they are working in the worksite.
“And the nature of the worksite is this interaction, not only among the migrant workers but also with fellow Singaporeans that are working at the worksite as well. So there will be a risk of transmission and we have also seen a number of Singaporean citizens and PRs who were infected at the worksite related to the CMP (construction, marine, process) sector.”
Ensuring tight social safe distancing measures in the community is also “crucial” to reduce the risk of a large community cluster forming even if there is an infection in the community, he said.
Watch the full press conference: