Sudden spike in infected workers, after Covid-19 testing at Jurong dorm, caused delays in taking them to facilities, says Singapore’s Manpower Ministry

Workers residing at Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory in Jurong being taken by transport to get medical consultations at a regional medical centre. ― TODAY pic
Workers residing at Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory in Jurong being taken by transport to get medical consultations at a regional medical centre. ― TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Oct 16 — Early investigations showed that the initial delays in taking Covid-19-positive workers from Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory to the appropriate care or recovery facility was because not enough resources were deployed to handle an “unexpected increase” in the number of infected workers.

The increase was due to a mandatory and routine mass testing exercise conducted by marine and offshore engineering group Sembcorp Marine for its workers who were residing at the dormitory. 

The dormitory in Jurong also houses migrant workers from other companies.

Tung Yui Fai, chief of the Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group, a division under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), said that workers who tested positive in their antigen rapid tests have been moved to medical facilities and the backlog of these workers was cleared on Thursday evening.

He also said that as Singapore moves to live with Covid-19 as an endemic disease like influenza, MoM is taking steps to quell the anxiety of the workers there, most of whom are not vaccinated, and will encourage them to get their shots.

Earlier in the week, an online article published on Weixin, a version of messaging application WeChat for China’s domestic users, claimed that Covid-19 health protocols were breached at the dormitory, that there was a lack of access to medical support, and the catered food for workers was of poor quality.

Photos of long queues of workers at the dormitory were published, as well as pictures of food with insects and hair in them.

Some workers quoted in the article claimed that they slept outside their rooms after testing positive for Covid-19, to avoid infecting their room-mates. 

The next day, police forces were deployed to the dormitory, including the riot police.

Centurion Corporation, which operates the dormitory, told CNA that there are 3,400 beds there and 40 per cent — about 1,400 beds — were occupied by Sembcorp Marine workers.

Yesterday (October 15), Tung of the ACE Group visited the dormitory to check on the conditions there and to assure workers that their concerns are being progressively resolved, MoM said.

In his remarks, a copy of which was provided to the media, Tung noted that MoM deployed Forward Assurance and Support Teams (Fast) to investigate the various claims on Wednesday and it is working closely with the dormitory operator and the employer of these workers on these issues.

Tung said he understands that the migrant workers at the dormitory were “anxious” and worried about the infection now that Singapore is moving to live with Covid-19, since many of them arrived here “not too many months ago”.

“Hence, it is important to explain to them how we are doing this. The majority of them have not been vaccinated. We are working with the employer to encourage them to be vaccinated with vaccines (under the national programme) for the best protection, but if they wish, with a vaccine that they accept.”

Tung noted that in the last two days, the conveyance of these workers to the facilities had been “smooth” and no significant delays were observed.

“We are very confident that the workers who are infected will be taken to recovery facilities.”

The authorities will “tighten up” its processes to ensure this is done in a timely manner, he added.

“As our processes are new, we will do our best to recover from any lapse. We also appeal to the employers and workers to help us make sure that these processes are done properly and well.”

As for the matter of the food catered for the workers, Sembcorp Marine has issued reminders to the caterer to adhere strictly to food hygiene standards, and it has been working with the caterer to make adjustments to cater to the differing food preferences, Tung said.

In a statement late yesterday, Sembcorp Marine apologised to its workers over the food complaints.

“The company has taken the caterer to task and has insisted on strict adherence to hygiene standards as well as timeliness of the food delivery,” it said. “It will continue to monitor this to ensure a high and consistent standard of food hygiene and quality.” 

With regard to medical support, Tung said: “We have deployed mobile clinical teams on site to augment the care needs of workers while continuing to make regional medical centres and telemedicine accessible.”   

He also assured the migrant workers at the dormitory that there are enough isolation facilities and that those who require medical support will receive it.

“Our Fast teams will also continue to work closely with dormitory operators, employers and other stakeholders to ensure concerns of workers are addressed promptly.” ― TODAY

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