SINGAPORE (May 1): Dormitories severely affected by the coronavirus are set to have on-site Community Care Facilities (CCFs) to house Covid-19 positive migrant workers who display mild symptoms or are clinically well.

With this, patients will be moved to these CCFs immediately upon diagnosis and need not await a transfer to an off-site medical site as is currently done, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Covid-19 said on Friday. Off-site CCFs presently housing patients include D’Resort, Singapore Expo and Changi Exhibition Centre.

Meanwhile, on-site Community Recovery Facilities (CRFs) will also be set up to care for non-infectious patients discharged from CCFs.

These CRFs will be designated within workers’ dormitories and will be thoroughly disinfected before the workers move in. Here, occupants will be required to observe strict safe distancing measures and will not be permitted to mingle with residents from other blocks.

This is a bid to help those who have recovered to “stay healthy and enable them to work when their employers resume business,” said Aubeck Kam, Permanent Secretary for Manpower and chair of the task force handling the Covid-19 spread at dormitories.

Collectively, these measures constitute the third phase of the task force’s plan to tackle the situation at the purpose-built workers’ dormitories most affected by the pandemic, he added.

Speaking at a later press conference, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said this phase will bring an “enormous challenge”.

“Many of the workers will be rehoused and they will have to get used to new friends. Many employers will have to adjust to their workers being in different locations with new arrangements,” she acknowledged.

“We will have to develop new strategies to monitor the health of the workers, this is a very important aspect of the recovery phase. The scale and the speed of the response is unprecedented, and it is critical that we get this phase done well so that work and businesses can resume safely,” she added.  

A separate approach has been adopted at dormitories that have reported fewer cases of infection. These include aggressive swabbing and isolation of workers. Kam believes this “will better enable the workers [living here] to eventually be able to resume work safely”.

This multi-pronged game plan comes as the transmission of the coronavirus at workers’ dormitories remains high. 

Health Minister and chairman of the task force on Covid-19 Gim Kim Yong, for one, noted that while the circuit breaker measures have helped bring down the number of community cases, transmission at workers’ dormitories remains “a challenge”.

As at 12pm on Friday, Singapore reported 932 new cases taking the total count of Covid-19 infections here to 17,101. Of the new cases, a vast majority are among migrant workers living in foreign worker dormitories, while five are Singaporeans or permanent residents.

More aid

Aside from the enhanced facilities to come, the task force said it will also provide better support on the healthcare needs of workers at both purpose-built and factory-converted dormitories. 

One way is through the 170 forward assurance and support (FAST) teams that have been deployed across all dormitories, to look into the workers’ well-being. These teams typically comprise officers from the Manpower Ministry, police force and armed forces

Another measure is the set-up of additional medical posts at foreign workers’ Recreation Centres that serve a catchment of 760 factory-converted dormitories housing some 65,000 workers. 

Currently, the residents of these factory-converted dormitories seek medical care at public health preparedness clinics or Polyclinics. They also receive care from over 50 medical personnel deployed in 12 mobile medical teams that visit factory-converted dormitories that have a higher incidence of Covid-19 cases.

Two medical posts catering to residents of these facilities have been set up at the Kranji and Tuas South Recreation Centres. These posts are equipped with isolation facilities to hold patients awaiting their swab results, and are managed by private healthcare providers such as Raffles Medical Group, ParkwayHealth and AcuMed Medical Group. 

So far, over 750 patients have visited these posts since mid-April, the task force said. It is now looking to add another two posts at the Woodlands and Kaki Bukit Recreation Centres, this week.

On a non-medical front, the government has extended the stay home notice issued to workers from the construction sector living outside purpose-built dormitories, by 14 days till May 18. This is to curb the spread of infections among this group, as it continues to rise.

‘Not out of the woods’

As the number of cases in the general population hovers around 10 to 15 daily, it seems the spread has somewhat been contained.

However, Gan stressed it is premature to assume Singapore is free of the virus and can return to normalcy. "No one can say that Singapore is out of the woods," he said.

Speaking at the same press conference National Development Minister Lawrence Wong who co-chairs the task force tackling the outbreak, chimed in that experts are concerned that a future wave may coincide with the flu season, further driving the number of cases up.

As such, he said the government will put in place new standards and guidelines ensure workplaces remain safe once the circuit breaker measures are gradually lifted. These include having to wear masks at work, not having employees socialise with each other and the usage of technology to track cases.

Wong further urged Singaporeans to remain vigilant, noting that "it only takes one case - one hidden case, one cryptic case - to cause new clusters to form”.

"This can happen in Singapore and in any country, so do not be too early to declare the end of infection in Singapore or anywhere in the world."

Across the border, Malaysia is now preparing to lift its Movement Control Order (MCO) on May 12 and allow businesses and certain social activities to resume.

Estimating the 44 day-long measure to have cost the country RM63 billion ($20.7 billion), or RM2.4 billion each day, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyddin said extending the MCO would only bring more losses.

“If the MCO continues for another month, the government loses RM35 billion, making the total loss to be RM98 billion. Looking at global trends, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to continue for a long time. It will not end in the near term,” noted Muhyiddin.

“We have to accept the fact that in the coming months it will be impossible to secure zero cases [of new infections]. What needs to be done is to improve the capabilities of public healthcare services to face any possibilities”.