SINGAPORE: All foreign workers living in dormitories will be tested by mid-August, the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce said on Friday (Jul 17).
“We believe that by mid-August we can complete this work, possibly even earlier than that,” said co-chair of the task force Lawrence Wong during a press conference.
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As of Thursday, about 232,000 of the estimated 300,000 foreign workers who live in dormitories in Singapore have either recovered or have been tested to be free from the virus.
This comes about four months after foreign worker accommodation across the country started being declared as isolation areas.
When asked why it is taking the Government this long to assess all the workers, Mr Wong said that clearing the dormitories is a “massive undertaking”.
It requires not just testing the workers once-off, but also separating COVID-19-positive workers carefully, re-testing some of those who were asymptomatic in the beginning and putting the infected person’s close contacts in quarantine, he said.
The remaining workers who are still isolated are “mostly waiting” for their final exit test, said Mr Wong, who is also the Minister for National Development.
“We are doing everything we can to complete that work and to allow the workers to resume work safely thereafter. So this is an important milestone,” he said.
However, many of the workers who are being tested in this “final phase” come from dormitories with a higher prevalence rate, he pointed out, which has resulted in a higher number of cases coming from dormitories in recent days. This trend is expected to continue in the next few days.
The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak said that it was “easier” to first test workers living in dormitories with a lower transmission rate.
He tried to emphasise that there is a difference between testing so that a dorm is “cleared” and testing to make sure that people with COVID-19 are treated.
“Those with acute respiratory infections presenting to doctors and medical teams, we’ve always remained committed to making sure they’re properly looked after and where we have people who are ... of a higher risk of adverse outcomes (like) the older workers, we’ve been quite vigilant to look out for them,” he said.
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In a separate press release, the MOH said that while there are workers who have recovered from COVID-19 and are ready to return to work, they are unable to do so as some residents in their dormitories are still being isolated.
Over the next week, the task force will put in place “additional decontamination measures” to allow these recovered workers to leave the dormitories to resume work safely, without compromising public health, MOH added.
Watch the full news conference and Q&A session: