International media outlets like the New York Times and the BBC, and local NGOs commenting that it is unfair to keep restrictions in place for migrant workers while the rest of Singapore moves towards Phase 3, have missed the larger issues, Dr Tan See Leng said.
Restrictions on group size and certain activities remain in place
Writing in a Facebook post, Dr Tan said that Phase 3 is not a return to the pre-COVID world. Restrictions on group size and venue capacities remain. High-risk venues and activities remain closed. These restrictions, he said, are meant to keep us as safe as possible while allowing other activities are resumed.
Now is not the time to relax and let our guard down
Dr Tan , who is the Second Minister for Manpower and Trade and Industry, pointed out that it is because of our stringent approach – from border controls and safe management measures to the careful relaxation of measures since our Circuit Breaker – that we can now look forward to Phase Three.
“If we relax any of these safeguards, we will see new waves of infection,” he said.
Migrant workers remain vulnerable to infection
While 47% of migrant workers had been infected by the virus, more than half have not. Therefore the risk of COVID-19 re-emerging in our migrant worker dormitories is real and significant.
To minimise the risk of infection, new dormitories are being built with improved safety standards. Some are ready and migrant workers have already started moving into them since October. The average occupancy in existing purpose-built dormitories has also decreased. Currently, it is about 60%. The government will also give the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge to all migrant workers. These are all measures to protect migrant workers.
In the meantime, Dr Tan said, appropriate measures to protect them must remain in place.
Dr Tan said, “We know that our measures have been tough on our migrant workers, and we thank them for their understanding and sacrifice. When and where we can, we have been relaxing restrictions cautiously.”
Resumption of communal and recreational activities
In dormitories with good safe management measures, migrant workers are now able to use communal and recreational facilities such as the kitchen, gyms and basketball courts. They are also allowed to visit Recreational Centres on their rest days. Authorities are working to increase the frequency of such visits.
Returning to the community
As we enter Phase 3, Dr Tan said a new pilot scheme that allows migrant workers to return to the community gradually will start from the first quarter of 2021.
“We will continue to do right by our migrant workers. We recognise our responsibility to keep them safe, and to take care of their livelihood and welfare,” Dr Tan emphasized.
Few countries have done as much for their migrant workers as we have. We provided them with the same standard of medical care as Singaporeans enjoy, at no cost to them.
Despite the scale of the outbreak in the dormitories, only 25 migrant workers were admitted to ICU for COVID-19 related reasons. Two migrant workers passed away from COVID-19 related causes.
We looked after their other needs too, especially when the dormitories were isolated, by providing meals, entertainment, and counselling services for those who needed emotional support. We made sure they continued to be paid their wages. All this took a massive combined effort, with the Government working with healthcare workers, NGOs, charities and community groups.
Some say we have been slow to relax our stringent measures. But the most important thing we can do for our migrant workers is to stay vigilant and make sure their sacrifices are not in vain.
– Dr Tan See Leng –