Singaporeans working in the US in a bind over Covid-19, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Singaporeans working in the US in a bind over Covid-19

This article is more than 12 months old

As death toll rises, they fear getting infected, but worry about losing their jobs if they come home

With the United States now the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, some Singaporeans working there are facing a predicament.

Return to Singapore and they risk not being allowed back into the US to resume their jobs.

For sous chef Shanna Vatsaloo, 26, this was not an option despite having to take a 25 per cent pay cut.

Miss Shanna, who has been with Michelin-starred Alexander's Steakhouse in San Francisco for the last four years, said: "If I went home, I might not be able to re-enter the US even though my work visa is still valid.

"Also, no restaurant in Singapore is hiring now because of the impact of the coronavirus."

Having decided to take her chances with staying in the US, her biggest worry is catching the deadly virus during her daily commute to work by bus.

She told The New Paper last week: "Masks are extremely difficult to get here. Most people are learning to make their own cloth masks, which might not work as well."

Miss Shanna said her worst-case scenario is getting the virus and having to seek treatment there.

Though she has company health insurance, she said it could take weeks to get an appointment to see a doctor because health services have been stretched thin by the outbreak.

Mr Ihzyan Iskandar, her friend from their Temasek Polytechnic days, arrived in San Francisco a few weeks after her and has been working as a chef in a fine dining restaurant since.

He now faces a similar dilemma of going home with the possibility of not being able to return to the US, or risk getting infected because he has not been able to wear a face mask since the first week of last month.

"The stocks for masks where I live in Napa Valley have run out," said Mr Ihzyan, 29, who used to drive 60km to work daily until his restaurant closed temporarily last month.

"Essentials like disinfectants and hand sanitisers are also limited at the supermarkets."

He said he learnt from the media that doctors and nurses were using their masks and personal protective equipment for the entire shift when they should be disposed of after treating a patient.

The US has the highest number of reported infections at more than half a million, and its death toll surged past 20,000 yesterday, overtaking Italy's total.

"A person may have to wait five hours to get tested for Covid-19. And because test kits here are limited, you might get turned away at the hospitals, even if you're symptomatic," Mr Ihzyan told TNP.

As he is now living off his savings and has no health insurance, he is unsure how he will cope if he gets infected.

A recent CNBC report said an uninsured person hospitalised with Covid-19 in the US can expect to pay anywhere from US$42,500 (S$60,000) to US$74,300.


But Mr Ihzyan is determined to ride out the epidemic for fear of losing his job.

He said: "I'm not sure what would happen to my work visa if I were to go home.

"I may also put my family at risk if I return home. This is what keeps me up every night."

Meanwhile, Singaporeans with loved ones living abroad, like Miss Shanna's mother, Ms Florence Lee, 62, are worried for their safety.

Ms Lee was initially anxious about her older daughter, Krysten-Ann, 28, who works for a travel company in Shanghai. It was in China that the coronavirus broke out and exploded into an epidemic before subsiding in recent weeks.

She told TNP: "Just as things were starting to settle in China, cases started piling up in the US. I couldn't catch a break."

Ms Lee, who owns a beauty parlour at Siglap Centre, said she tried to persuade her girls to come home but to no avail.

"At the end of the day, I have to leave the decision to my kids, and I trust they will make the right decision," she added.

Ms Lee, who lives by herself in the Bedok Reservoir area, said her biggest fear is her daughters not being able to get flights home should anything happen to either of them.

The last time Miss Shanna saw her family was in September last year when she was back for her father's funeral.

She said: "I don't know when I can see my family again, but there are always video calls to keep in touch."