SINGAPORE: Migrant workers in some dormitories will be able to to access the community once a month under a pilot scheme in the first quarter of next year, as Singapore progressively eases restrictions as part of its transition into Phase 3.
Migrant workers account for most of Singapore's COVID-19 cases, with more than 1,000 new cases a day detected in dormitories during the peak of the outbreak in April.
To contain the outbreak, a series of measures were imposed on migrant workers and their movements, including placing all dormitories under isolation and COVID-19 testing. Currently, migrant workers are only been permitted to leave their dormitories for work, errands and to visit recreation centres.
“With the transition into Phase 3, we are preparing to return migrant workers to the community in a controlled manner, with strict measures in place,” the health and manpower ministries said in a news release on Monday (Dec 14).
“We will start a pilot scheme in the first quarter of 2021 to allow migrant workers in some dormitories to access the community once a month, subject to compliance with rostered routine testing (RRT), wearing of contact tracing devices and safe living measures.”
READ: Migrant workers who test negative for COVID-19 allowed to visit recreation centres from Oct 31
SITUATION IN DORMITORIES UNDER CONTROL
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced earlier on Monday that Singapore will enter Phase 3 on Dec 28, with social gatherings of up to eight people allowed.
The COVID-19 outbreak in dormitories has been brought under control, the ministries said, highlighting that after several RRT cycles, the number of new infections have remained “very low”.
“Since October, no new cases were detected in the dormitories on many days,” they said.
All workers living in dormitories, and those who work in the construction, marine and process sectors, have been undergoing RRT once every 14 days to detect and contain new infections rapidly.
By August, all migrant workers living in dormitories had undergone at least one test for COVID-19, and almost all have been cleared to return to work safely, the Ministry of Health said.
READ: Social gatherings of up to 8 people allowed from Dec 28, further reopening of activities in Phase 3
ACCESS TO COMMUNAL FACILITIES
As part of the Phase 3 transition, migrant workers will again be allowed access to communal facilities in their dormitories such as cooking stations and sports facilities, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng at a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference.
They will also be allowed to visit recreational centres more often for their daily needs, such as going to the barber or making remittances.
“We are also working with recreational centres to bring in more activities including movies, sports screenings and some pasar malam perhaps,” said Dr Tan.
READ: Singapore approves Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, first shipment expected by end-December: PM Lee
COVID-19 VACCINATION FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
Along with the Phase 3 announcement, Mr Lee on Monday also said that Singapore has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, with the first shipment expected to arrive by the end of December. Other vaccines are also expected to arrive in the coming months.
Priority will be given to those at greatest risk, and then progressively to the rest of the population, he said.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at the press conference that migrant workers will receive the vaccination after healthcare workers and vulnerable seniors.
"Even among the migrant workers, you may need to segregate them. There may be those who are more involved in business or economic activities that are more exposed to potential infection, then you may need to prioritise them," said Mr Gan.
Dr Tan added that migrant workers who have not contracted COVID-19, and are thus not immune to it, are likely to get the vaccines first.
"We will be prioritising this group of workers first over and above the other colleagues and the new ones coming in," he said.
Dr Tan said the plan is to roll out the vaccines at medical centres within the dormitories, as well as some of recreational centre and community medical clinics that screen and test migrant workers.
"As we get visibility over the schedule of the delivery of the vaccines coming in, and based on the very calibrated approach in terms of the needs of the larger population and community, then we will have a timeline and a schedule to roll out immunisation for all these long-term pass holders," he added.
The ministries said they will also continue with a multi-layered strategy of aggressive routine testing using both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antigen rapid testing, accompanied by isolation strategies, to keep migrant workers safe and detect and contain new cases early.
By the end of December, more than 450,000 workers living in dormitories, or working in the construction, marine and process sectors, would have received contact tracing devices, said the health and manpower ministries.
“Meanwhile, we are monitoring the earliest cohort of migrant workers who have recovered from COVID-19 and are currently exempt from RRT,” they said.
“We are studying how their antibodies change over time. We will resume RRT for these workers if we detect their antibodies starting to fade, or if there is evidence of reinfection among them.”
READ: COVID-19: Singapore to build new dormitories with improved living standards for migrant workers
DIFFICULTIES AND ANXIETIES FACED BY MIGRANT WORKERS
Dr Tan acknowledged the “difficulties and anxieties” migrant workers faced while isolated in dormitories with their movements restricted, at a time when many of their colleagues and friends tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Sunday, 54,505 dormitory residents have tested positive using the PCR test.
Another 98,289 have tested serology-positive although they did not have a positive PCR test.
There were 25 COVID-19-related intensive care unit admissions among migrant workers living in dormitories, and two deaths due to COVID-19.
“We could not have contained this virus without the determination, cooperation, patience and understanding of the migrant workers in the dormitories. They quickly adopted the safe living practices and cooperated with all the measures in place,” he said.
“Ultimately, it took a relentless and whole-of-society effort to bring the situation under control.”
In all, Singapore has reported a total of 58,325 COVID-19 cases as of Monday, with 29 fatalities.
"The morbidity and mortality rate among our migrant workers living in dormitories were kept very low, although there were unfortunately two deaths due to COVID-19 among this group," the ministries said.
"Our migrant workers’ contributions to Singapore are immense, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are well and can return home safely to their families."