Foreign Workers Safer in Singapore Than Elsewhere, Minister Says

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Foreign workers in Singapore know they are currently safer in the city-state than elsewhere including their own countries, a minister said, even as a massive coronavirus outbreak among that community shines a spotlight on cramped and oft-unsanitary lodging provided for the low-wage employees.

The workers from overseas are “appreciative” of efforts that range from relieving overcrowding in current facilities, and measures to provide them with medical attention, food and remittance services, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in aFacebook post on Sunday. Singapore is speeding up construction of additional dormitories, he said.

“Accommodation for foreign workers, especially construction workers, is getting top attention,” Khaw said. Lodgings which are being accelerated were originally meant for workers at the peak of building Changi Airport’s Terminal 5, he said.

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“Meanwhile, they can help relieve the crowding in existing foreign workers dorms,” he said.

Singapore has tightened entry rules, mandated masks, poured billions of dollars into the economy and imposed a weeks-long partial lockdown to contain the outbreak. The nation reported an additional 596 coronavirus cases as of noon Sunday, and all but 25 are work permit holders.

On Saturday, it saw the largest single-day spike of 942 cases. Infections among foreign workers now account for over 60% of the country’s total of 6,558 cases.

“I know our foreign workers are appreciative of the efforts,” Khaw said. “They know that they are safer in Singapore now, than elsewhere, even at home.”

Bangladeshi Workers

Many of the virus-hit foreigners in Singapore are Bangladeshis. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has reported 2,144 cases and 84 deaths, according todata compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The outbreak in the island nation of 5.7 million people has exposed the poor conditions that many migrant workers live in. There are about 981,000 work permit holders as ofJune 2019, and about 284,000 are in the construction sector.

Over 200,000 foreign workers live in 43 dormitories in Singapore. Most are housed in crowded and unhygienic quarters, typically with 10 to 12 people sharing a room, making social distancing harder to enforce. Thirteen dormitory complexes linked to virus clusters have been isolated, meaning workers will not be allowed to leave their rooms for 14 days.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has vowed to raise standards of living in dormitories. Doing so is “not only the right thing to do but also in our own interests,” she said. “We should be willing to accept the higher costs that come with higher standards.”

To curb transmissions, authorities have shifted thousands of workers employed in essential services such as logistics, transportation and construction who were found to be free of the virus to temporary housing facilities. They include vacant military camps, public housing units and floating lodgings commonly used in the marine and offshore industry.

Sports halls in the Singapore Sports Hub, a sporting venue that has played host to the Women’s Tennis Association finals, will be converted as a temporary accommodation to house virus-free workers. The government is also studying using cruise ships to temporarily house foreign workers who have recovered from the coronavirus and tested negative.

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