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COVID-19 testing, foreign worker dormitory conditions to be discussed in Parliament

COVID-19 testing, foreign worker dormitory conditions to be discussed in Parliament

Parliament House, Singapore. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

SINGAPORE: Issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore will be front and centre when Parliament sits on Monday (May 4).

Members of Parliament (MPs) have submitted dozens of questions ranging from issues to do with COVID-19 testing, living conditions in foreign worker dormitories and the lifting of current "circuit breaker" measures.

The Government will also provide updates on Singapore's response to the outbreak, with Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo delivering ministerial statements on the issue.

As of Thursday Singapore has reported 16,169 cases of COVID-19, with work permit holders living in foreign worker dormitories particularly badly hit.

READ: Singapore COVID-19 cases cross 16,000 mark, with 528 new cases reported

Several MPs have tabled questions on the living conditions in these dormitories.

MP Louis Ng will ask whether the Manpower Ministry will consider increasing the minimum gross floor area of 4.5 sqm for each resident and having basic living facilities such as kitchen and toilet areas excluded from this computation, as well as whether the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act's regulatory framework can be extended to more types of worker accommodation.

Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong will ask whether a Commission of Inquiry will be appointed to investigate the high incidences of COVID-19 among foreign workers, and how their living conditions may have led to the spread of the disease.

READ: COVID-19: Battling fear and boredom, migrant workers grapple with isolation in dormitories

MP Ang Wei Neng and MP Png Eng Huat will both ask about the role of dormitory owners or operators, with Mr Ang asking what role owners have played to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and Mr Png asking about warnings issued to operators for not meeting licence conditions.

The issue of COVID-19 testing will also be up for discussion. 

MP Sylvia Lim will ask about the Government's strategy for testing, whether the current approach is sufficient to provide reliable information about the spread of COVID-19 in the community and what the current and desired testing capacity is.

MP Leon Perera will ask about impediments to testing of asymptomatic people who are deemed to be at risk, and to what extent testing has been expanded to those who do not exhibit typical COVID-19 symptoms.

MP Foo Mee Har will ask whether antibody tests are a valid way to assess the reach of the novel coronavirus, whether they can be used to assess the level of "herd immunity" in the community, and the use of such tests as part of a plan to gradually return the community to work.

READ: COVID-19: 'Not true' Singapore has reduced testing among migrant workers, says Gan Kim Yong

When the current circuit breaker will be lifted is also up for discussion.

MP Cheng Li Hui will ask whether safe distancing measures and penalties will still be in force after the period is over, and whether additional measures will be necessary, as well as how safe distancing ambassadors can be protected from abuse.

Ms Lim will also ask what metrics the Government will use to decide whether movement control measures imposed under the circuit breaker can be gradually lifted.

MPs will also discuss issues relating to misinformation.

MP Tin Pei Ling will ask how many incidents of "fake news" relating to COVID-19 have been identified and reported since January, what actions have been taken to tackle the issue, and how creators are held accountable.

READ: Fake videos being spread to create trouble in foreign worker dorms, risk 'serious' law and order incidents: Shanmugam

Meanwhile Mr Perera will ask about the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) correction directions issued regarding the compensation paid to Temasek Holding's chief executive officer.

On Apr 19 the authorities announced that the Minister of Finance had instructed that four correction directions be issued over online posts which carried a "false statement" regarding Ms Ho Ching's annual salary.

Mr Perera will ask how the subject statement harms the public interest as defined under POFMA.

READ: COVID-19: Parliament could meet from multiple locations under proposed law

Several Bills will also be introduced on Monday, including the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill which, if passed into law, could allow Singapore's lawmakers to meet from multiple locations instead of having to meet in one place as mandated under the Constitution.

This would provide a legal framework for MPs to spread out "between two or more places, if it becomes impossible, unsafe or inexpedient for Parliament to meet at one place", the Office of the Leader of the House and Office of the Clerk of Parliament said in a statement earlier this week.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

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Source: CNA/nc(ac)

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