SINGAPORE: All foreign worker dormitory residents who test negative for COVID-19 will be able to visit recreation centres on their days off from Saturday (Oct 31), said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday.
They must also come from a dormitory that has no active COVID-19 cases.
This comes after more than two months of trials when around 30,000 workers from about 300 dormitories were allowed to visit recreation centres on their rest days.
Eight recreation centres across Singapore will open by the end of the week and workers will choose from one of five three-hour slots from 8am to 11pm.
At these centres, they will be able to shop for groceries, remit money, get a haircut and dine with their friends. Safe distancing officers will be on the ground to make sure the workers adhere to COVID-19 safety measures.
So far, workers have only been permitted to leave their dormitories for work and errands.
To visit their dormitory’s assigned recreation centre, they will have to apply for an exit pass via the SGWorkPass mobile application and can do so seven days in advance.
As part of safety measures, workers - who currently have their rest days staggered throughout the week - have to pre-book time slots on the SGWorkPass mobile application to prevent overcrowding at these centres.
"The number of exit passes issued for each time slot will be controlled through the application system," said MOM.
Dormitory operators and personnel at the recreation centres will check that workers have valid exit passes before they are allowed to enter or exit.
Apart from taking company-charted buses to the locations, those who live in the vicinity are allowed to walk or cycle there as well.
JTC Corporation (JTC), which runs five of eight recreation centres, used to welcome between 3,000 and 4,000 workers a day before the pandemic, said the agency’s housing and community division assistant manager S Darison Kumar.
Mr Darison, who runs the Tuas South recreation centre, said JTC will cap the capacity of each session at an average of 300 workers.
IMPROVEMENTS TO TIME SLOTS
Several improvements were made following feedback from workers during the trial period, said MOM's director of occupational safety and health Christopher Koh.
The ministry will add an additional time slot of 8pm to 11pm to cater to workers who do overtime work on their rest days, as some of them are unable to make it for the current last slot of 5pm to 8pm.
MOM will also extend the time workers are allowed to spend at the centres to three hours, after some workers said the original allowance of two hours is too short, especially after factoring the time spent on their commute.
VISITS HELP "REFRESH OUR MINDS"
While he is glad for an extra evening time slot, Indian national Mulasapu Raju said he hopes workers will be allowed to visit the centres at least twice a week, or that they can be given more time for each session.
“Three hours is too rushed,” said Mr Raju, who lives in SCM Tuas Lodge and works for Sembcorp Marine.
The 29-year-old, who has worked in Singapore for seven years, said that the first time he was allowed to return to the recreation centre was “really exciting”. Before the pandemic, he used to spend four to five hours with his friends at the centre.
Last week, he was unable to book a slot on his rest day and this time, he made sure to book early in the morning. This was his second time at the centre after the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
When asked what will happen if workers sneak off instead of visiting the centre during their session, Mr Koh from the Manpower Ministry said while there are no punitive measures in place right now, they will stress the importance of safety to the workers.
“We give them some advice and educate them (and say) “for now, for your own safety, you should be going to the recreation centre for now,” he said, adding that such cases are “the minority” right now.
Bangladeshi national Sonjon Kumar Dey is also happy about being able to finally step out of his dormitory on his days off.
The 36-year-old, who also works for Sembcorp Marine and stays at SCM Tuas Lodge, said the visits help him and the other workers “refresh our minds”.
Mr Sonjon was confined to his dormitory in March this year and only returned to work in September. He described the lockdown as “tough” and “difficult”.
While this was his second visit, he said he would only apply to drop by the centre when he needs to shop for groceries.
“Give the chance to another person.”