20,000 foreign workers to be discharged by end-May: Lawrence Wong, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

20,000 foreign workers to be discharged by end-May: Lawrence Wong

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National Development Minister says the plan is to test all 323,000 such workers in dorms

By the end of the month, 20,000 migrant workers who were infected with Covid-19 will be discharged from care facilities, and more are expected to recover next month, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

This is about 80 per cent of the total number of infections here currently, which reached 24,671 yesterday.

"Our aim is to make sure that as far as possible, all migrant workers are free of infection before resuming work when their sectors gradually reopen," added Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at the same press conference.

So far, 1,735 migrant workers have recovered and been discharged, and significantly more are expected to enter the recovery phase in the coming weeks, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

There are 323,000 foreign workers in dorms, and the authorities plan to test them all "to make sure that they are free from infection", Mr Wong said.

The testing process is under way and may be completed only by next month or July.

More than 32,000 workers from dorms have already been tested. Discharged workers will return to their dorms or be transferred to other temporary accommodation.

Workers will be tested using mass polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and mass serological tests, said Mr Wong, as he outlined the Government's "systematic" approach to ensure that dormitories are clear of the coronavirus.

First, serology tests, which can detect if an individual has had Covid-19 in the past, will be applied to dorms with high infection rates, he said.

MOH said workers with a positive serological test would have been infected in the past - at least 10 to 14 days ago - and would no longer be infectious after a period of isolation.

"After a period of isolation, we can assume they've recovered from the virus," said Mr Wong.

Serological tests detect the presence of antibodies to the virus in the bloodstream.

Antibodies are evidence of the body's reaction to an infection, and show that a person was previously infected.

Their presence might also indicate the person is now immune to the virus.

PCR tests will be done on workers who test negative for the serology tests, and for those in dormitories without high infection rates.

PCR technology detects the presence of viral genetic material in patient samples. Such tests will be applied individually or in batches.

MOH said such pooled tests involve combining swabs of up to five individuals into one laboratory test, which does not affect the sensitivity of the tests.

Where a pooled test is positive, the original five individuals could be re-tested individually to identify the infected person.

As a PCR test cannot detect the virus when it is in incubation, a worker who tests negative the first time will be subject to a 14-day isolation period, said Mr Wong.

The worker will need to have a second negative result after the isolation period to be confirmed to be clear of the virus.

About 3,000 tests are now being done daily in the dorms, and that number will be stepped up in the coming weeks, he said.