Manpower, health ministries apologise for 3-week delay in worker's COVID-19 test result

Manpower, health ministries apologise for 3-week delay in worker's COVID-19 test result

An Army Medical Services member taking a foreign worker's blood pressure at Westlite Toh Guan dorm.
An Army Medical Services member taking the blood pressure of a foreign worker at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory. (Photo: Mindef)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have apologised for an administrative error that led to a migrant worker being informed of his positive COVID-19 test result three weeks after he was swabbed.

“We apologise for the error and consequent delay in conveying the test results to (the worker) and to his employer. We have since reached out to the employer to explain the situation,” said the ministries in a joint statement in response to CNA's query on Monday (Jul 20).

A resident at Toh Guan Dormitory, identified as Worker A, had his test on Jun 22, but was informed that he tested positive for COVID-19 by the authorities only on Jul 13.

The incident was made known to the public by the worker’s employers, Ms Tsjin Chandra Dolly and Ms Kelly Soh, who made two separate Facebook posts about the issue last week.

In their posts, the two women also said that as of Jul 15, the worker still continued to live in the same room with his 11 other roommates after his positive test.

This was despite being informed by MOH on Jul 13 that the ministry required 24 hours to arrange for the worker to be moved out of the dormitory.

The employers were later told that the multi-ministry task force handling Singapore’s response to the disease outbreak would take care of the matter.

READ: 193 more migrant worker dormitories cleared of COVID-19 - MOM

READ: All foreign workers to be tested by mid-August, says COVID-19 task force 

In their reply, MOH and MOM said the worker was tested as part of a survey.

"Before we start the clearance process for a dormitory, we typically conduct a survey by testing a sample of workers across the dormitory. This is to assess the extent of the spread, and to develop the most appropriate strategy for clearing the dormitory," they said.

In such an exercise, several swab tests are pooled together and tested as a group to assess the extent of the spread of the infection in the dormitories. These survey tests are different from individualised testing, and cannot be used for the clearance of the workers.

Along with some other residents in the dormitory, the worker and his 11 roommates had been selected for the survey test.

"The pool-test results for the room were all positive," said the authorities.

"But the team realised that there was an administrative error in the conduct of the pool-test for Worker A in that it contained only Worker A’s swab. In other words, Worker A’s test on 22 June was actually an individual test rather than a pool-test," they added.

That was why the worker was informed three weeks after his test that he was COVID-19 positive, said the authorities, adding that he has recovered from the infection and did not display any symptoms.


Both ministries said the error “does not change or impact the overall procedure” of the clearance process being conducted in Toh Guan Dormitory, which is conducted through a series of serology, survey tests and individual polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests - the testing method currently used for COVID-19 in Singapore.

Appropriate isolation periods were also carried out between tests, said the authorities.

They added that the error also has “no impact on the appropriateness of the clearance strategy for the dormitory, nor the treatment and care of all the workers at Toh Guan Dormitory”, including the worker and his roommates.

“Throughout this period, all 12 workers continued to be cared for in their room ... their health was monitored by medical staff with regular pulse oximeter readings, temperature readings and symptoms checks,” said the ministries.

MOM and MOH added that the workers involved in the incident were well throughout and did not exhibit any acute respiratory infection symptoms.

As part of the clearance process, all residents in the dormitory - including the 12 workers - were tested for COVID-19 from the end of June.

From these tests, the authorities found that among the worker’s 11 roommates, seven had old infections and had already recovered from the disease, three had recent infections and have been transferred to a community care facility, and one worker was not infected.

The ministries added that Toh Guan Dormitory is expected to be cleared later this month.

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Source: CNA/jt(ac)