Routine testing among measures to prevent more dorm clusters: Minister
Routine testing of migrant workers every 14 days among safeguards, says minister
Additional safeguards, including routine testing of migrant workers every 14 days, will be put in place to prevent large Covid-19 clusters from forming in worker dormitories again, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.
With the authorities on track to finish testing all workers residing in dormitories today, he said the daily number of new cases in Singapore is expected to come down significantly by the end of the month as dormitory infections taper off.
But Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19, warned against complacency.
"Just because we have Covid-cleared dormitories doesn't mean that we should assume these are permanently Covid-safe dormitories," he said during a virtual press conference.
"We have seen the experiences everywhere in the world, where even if there is a very low level of underlying transmission... So long as there is a lapse in the community, or people do not observe the safe management practices carefully, these low levels of infection can suddenly flare up into large clusters, anywhere, anytime."
As of Monday, about 273,000 foreign workers, or close to 90 per cent of dormitory residents, have either recovered or were tested to be free of Covid-19.
About 9,700 workers are still under 14-day isolation in 17 standalone blocks in eight purpose-built dormitories.
This final batch of workers will be tested again before they can exit quarantine, so case numbers in the next two weeks will be volatile, said Mr Wong, who was formerly National Development Minister.
The authorities are also engaging with employers so cleared or recovered workers can go back to work as soon as possible.
About 90 per cent of workers in dorms will be able to return to work by the end of the month.
Mr Wong said housing arrangements for these workers will likely be different going forward, and a range of safe management practices are being implemented in dorms, at worksites and for worker transport.
Meanwhile, a range of surveillance methods, including regular testing, will allow for early detection of new infections.
Mr Wong said: "The intention is to go in very quickly... pull out the workers who are at risk without having to have all of the workers in the block or potentially the entire dormitory be subject to a lockdown again."
The explosion of Covid-19 infections in dormitories in April forced Singapore into an eight-week circuit breaker with more than 300,000 migrant workers going into lockdown.
Dormitory residents still cannot leave their premises except for work or essential errands such as medical appointments.
Asked when migrant workers will be allowed to move freely in the community, Mr Wong said this will be done step by step once there is assurance that they are free from the virus.
"After clearing such a high viral load environment... we often find that there are residual cases, even continuing for weeks," he added.
The Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said MOH is in close talks with the Ministry of Manpower on how to continue supporting migrant worker health and welfare, even after the dormitory outbreak is under control.
Associate Professor Mak said many best practices and innovations, such as telemedicine, will likely remain and the ministries will also look towards establishing more long-term medical facilities in and around migrant worker dormitories.