Singapore migrant workers live in fear as virus hits dorms

The city-state quarantines 4 large dormitory complexes, where more than 200 cases have so far been detected

SINGAPORE • Migrant workers in Singapore are living in fear following a surge of coronavirus infections in their dormitories where they say cramped and filthy conditions make social distancing impossible.

The city-state, which is battling a worsening outbreak, this week, quarantined four large dormitory complexes housing tens of thousands of mostly South Asian workers, where more than 200 cases have so far been detected. Infections have also been recorded in a handful of other facilities.

One worker from Bangladesh, who lives in a dorm where there are several known infections but has not yet been locked down, told AFP social distancing to halt the spread of the virus was not possible.

“One small room with 12 people living together…how can we make social distance?” the labourer said in English, on the condition of anonymity. He said hygiene standards were poor and workers were forced to use a communal cooking area and bathroom.

“We know the virus character, how this is spread — so if this living condition continue, I am very worried,” he added.

At least one dorm had overflowing toilets and rooms infested with cockroaches, the Straits Times newspaper reported, casting a harsh spotlight on what critics claim is the disgraceful treatment of foreign labourers in wealthy Singapore.

The huge dormitories mostly house construction workers who typically earn about US$400 to US$500 (RM2,170) a month building the city state’s glittering skyscrapers and shopping malls.

A Bangladeshi man in one of the quarantined dormitories said workers were increasingly concerned about the growing number of asymptomatic cases. “Definitely we all are worried,” he told AFP, also speaking anonymously.

“Since last few days, we already got news that there are so many people affected without any symptoms.”

There are about 280,000 migrant construction workers in Singapore who mostly live in self-contained dorms, with shops and other facilities on-site. They are often located in less desirable parts of the city, meaning they mix little with Singaporeans.

After reports emerged of unsanitary conditions at one of the quarantined dorms, the Manpower Ministry said it was working to improve the situation. Caterers are

providing meals to workers in lockdown and cleaning services have been increased.

A task force involving government officials, police and the armed forces has also been set up to provide support to foreign workers and dormitory operators.

The Manpower Ministry said it will “continue to keep a close eye on the dormitory conditions and will intervene proactively to ensure standards”. But Amnesty International warned quarantining workers in close proximity could be a “recipe for disaster”. — AFP