Singapore said on Tuesday that the number of migrant workers infected with the coronavirus may be higher than the official tallies as the country is isolating all symptomatic patients staying in dormitories before testing them.
A total of 12,183 of the 323,000 migrant workers living in dormitories – about 3.77 per cent – have tested positive, putting the spotlight on their living conditions.
Singapore on Tuesday reported 528 new coronavirus cases, the vast majority of them linked to foreign workers, including Indians, residing in dormitories that have emerged as the hotspots for the transmission of the disease in the country.
The current strategy is to isolate and keep those who are possibly infected away from healthy roommates so that authorities are able to break the chain of transmission, said Health Ministry’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak during a media briefing on Tuesday.
Mak was responding to a question about whether workers who are isolated without being tested first will be part of the official count of COVID-19 patients.
He acknowledged that the number of Covid-19 cases may be higher than what is stated in the official report, which includes confirmed and verified infections.
But the suspected cases will eventually be tested to confirm if they are infected, or if they have recovered, he assured.
“The numbers will reconcile. It’s not an issue of fudging, or dodging or trying to hide numbers,” he said.
“It is really a question of making sure that our priorities in testing match the needs that we have on the ground, and making sure that we report as transparently as we can.”
Authorities will eventually test all of the foreign workers, mostly working in the labour industry such as construction sites, Mak explained.
“There will always be a catch up (but) we will come around and make sure they are properly tested because we want to know whether they do have (the) infection,” he stressed.
It “makes a lot of sense” to isolate all symptomatic foreign workers in dormitories, said Mak.
This is because, in dormitories where the rate of infection is very high, almost every symptomatic person would eventually turn out to be a Covid-19 case, he explained.
The rate of infection can vary “quite significantly” among the various dormitories, he added.
In dormitories where there are fewer cases, officials are trying to test more to find out what the level of infection is, he said, as it is easier to prevent further spread of the Covid-19 in these premises.
The majority of the workers who have tested positive are “very very well”, most with minimal symptoms, said Mak as a reassurance.
“There isn’t really much else we need to do other than the monitoring that we in fact put in place,” he added.
As of Tuesday noon, Singapore has 14,951 coronavirus cases.
The Health Ministry reported 528 new cases on Tuesday, most of them are work permit holders living in dormitories for foreign workers.
The healthcare capacity to deal with Covid-19 cases will be increased significantly in the next two months, with the total number of bed spaces for those with mild symptoms doubling by end-June. Plans are to double the bed capacity at community care facilities to 20,000 by the end of June.
The ramping up of bed spaces at these community care facilities is part of a wider strategy which includes increasing capacity in other facilities, as well as in manpower, said authorities at the Tuesday briefing.
“The government has ensured sufficient capacity by, for example, postponing non-urgent elective procedures and creating new capacity in isolation wards and intensive care units by repurposing existing hospital facilities,” said Brigadier-General David Neo, director of joint operations at the Singapore Armed Forces.
At a press conference, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that given the different needs of patients, the Government has set up a range of facilities to match their medical requirements.
“The majority who have mild or no symptoms, as well as those who have largely recovered from the illnesses are cared for in community care facilities such as Singapore Expo, under the care of a medical team, supported by technology tools, such as vital signs monitoring,” he said.
Migrant workers who test negative for Covid-19, but may have other illnesses, will be isolated for up to five days before being allowed to leave, to prevent the spread of other illnesses, it was announced at the Tuesday briefing.
Such workers will be housed in what authorities are calling dorm isolation facilities.