If the government thought they could go on turning a blind eye towards the dismal living conditions of the foreign worker dormitories, the covid-19 outbreak could not have been a better wake-up call.
Now with more than 3000 covid-19 infections in dormitories, the government is scrambling to contain the outbreak in the overcrowded dorms.
This is none other than the result of the government’s neglect of foreign workers’ living conditions despite NGOs sounding the alert way before the pandemic.
Poor Living Conditions
Earlier this month, pictures of crowded and filthy areas in the S11 Punggol dormitory emerged on social media, producing shockwaves across the country.
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad then said that conditions at the S11 dormitory were found to be satisfactory when the last inspection was done on 4 March.
This calls into question the quality of checks carried out by MOM and what it considers to be satisfactory living conditions.
With 12 to 20 men sharing a room and several rooms to a common toilet, it is the perfect condition for the coronavirus to spread and it makes it almost impossible for any physical distancing.
A Lack of Foresight
Allowing the dormitory problems to fester and eventually erupt into a full-blown outbreak represents a lack of foresight by the government.
After initially being praised for being the “gold standard” for controlling the spread of covid-19 in Singapore, the government is now caught off guard by something they did not anticipate.
Nevertheless, they remain defensive about their handling of the situation.
During a press conference on 21 April, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo stated that migrant workers were not moved out of the dormitories earlier because of concerns about livelihood and that dormitory operators were asked to raise hygiene standards and implement safe distancing measures since January.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong added that the surge in the number of dormitory cases are a result of a aggressive testing at the dormitories.
There was however no acknowledgement of the government’s failure to curb the conditions which led to the current outbreak.
It was only a matter of time before the ugly secret reared its head. It took a pandemic to expose it and it is too late. The fears of the workers, the chaos at the dorms, the public health risk – it could all have been avoided had the government paid attention in the first place.