SINGAPORE: Singapore will do its best to take care of the needs of foreign workers here amid the COVID-19 outbreak, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Apr 10). 

The number of COVID-19 cases in foreign worker dormitories has surged in recent days, with clusters emerging in nine dormitories so far. The cluster at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol is the largest in Singapore, with 283 confirmed cases as of Apr 9.

“We are paying close attention to the welfare of the foreign workers. They came to Singapore to work hard for a living, and provide for their families back home. They have played an important part building our HDB flats, Changi Airport, MRT lines,” said Mr Lee in a speech posted on Facebook.

He added that authorities have worked with employers to make sure that the workers will be paid their salaries and can remit money home.

“We will provide them with the medical care and treatment that they need,” he said.

“If any of their family members watch my video, let me say this to them: We appreciate the work and contributions of your sons, fathers, husbands in Singapore. We feel responsible for their well-being. We will do our best to take care of their health, livelihood and welfare here, and to let them go home, safe and sound, to you.”

READ: In full: PM Lee appeals to older Singaporeans to stay at home during COVID-19 ‘circuit breaker’ period

READ: ‘Dedicated strategy’ to break COVID-19 spread in dormitories, including housing healthy workers in army camps

There had been concerns about the welfare of foreign workers in dormitories, and the ability of dorm operators to implement COVID-19 safe distancing measures, after photos and videos circulating online appeared to show crowded and unsanitary conditions at S11 Dormitory.

Thousands of workers live at the dormitories that have been declared isolation areas under the Infectious Diseases Act, meaning all workers have been placed under quarantine and will have to stay in their rooms for 14 days.

The Ministry of Manpower has since stepped in to help manage the situation – saying it has ensured better distribution and quality of meals, as well as improved waste management and hygiene conditions.

READ: COVID-19: Crowding, emotional health of migrant workers at dormitories concern employers

READ: Conditions continue to improve at S11, Westlite and Toh Guan dormitories hit by COVID-19: MOM

In his speech on Friday, Mr Lee noted that an inter-agency task force has deployed Forward Assurance and Support Teams to all foreign worker dormitories. These teams, comprising officers from the Singapore Armed Forces, the police and MOM, will work closely with dormitory operators in order to respond quickly to workers’ essential needs.

The teams are also setting up medical facilities and triage clinics, bringing in supplies and food, as well as managing logistics and housekeeping, said Mr Lee.

“They are making sure the workers have food and water, and Wi-Fi to keep in touch with families back home and friends here, and for entertainment. The SAF and the Home Team have the resources and the organisation to do this. Many other public service agencies are also chipping in,” Mr Lee added.

READ: SAF will do more for COVID-19 fight if needed: Ng Eng Hen

SPECIAL APPEAL TO OLDER SINGAPOREANS

In his Malay speech, Mr Lee highlighted that outside the dormitories, the number of new cases in the general community has also gone up, with the source of infection for half the cases remaining unknown.

This means that the people who infected them “are still among us” and continue to affect more people, which is why the “circuit breaker” measures are important, said the Prime Minister. 

He made a “special appeal” to older Singaporeans who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“But please understand: We are telling you to stay at home for your own safety,” urged Mr Lee.

“If we catch COVID-19, it is a serious matter. Our chances of dying are much higher, and if we get infected and spread the virus to our friends around our age, or bring the virus back home to our families, then, we put them in grave danger.”

READ: Singapore reports a record 287 new COVID-19 cases with more than half linked to dormitory cluster

READ: COVID-19: Parents not allowed to drop children off daily at grandparents’ place, open-air stadiums to close

Noting that it is Good Friday – a day for Christians “to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ” – Mr Lee said that it is also a time for Singaporeans to acknowledge the sacrifices of Singapore’s frontline workers, as well as a time for all Singaporeans to make their own sacrifices and to observe the circuit breaker measures strictly to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Mr Lee acknowledged that the measures are very inconvenient and that they come at great cost to Singapore’s economy. 

“But the more strictly we observe the restrictions, the faster they will work, and the sooner we can ease up on them. If some of us fail to comply strictly with the measures, the circuit breaker will fail, then all our inconvenience, pain and sacrifice will have been in vain,” he said. 

READ: COVID-19: Singapore makes ‘decisive move’ to close most workplaces and impose full home-based learning for schools, says PM Lee

READ: ‘Circuit breaker’ rules to incur more pain for Singapore economy, job market: Experts

Mr Lee said he will continue to speak to Singaporeans “from time to time” over the next few weeks to provide updates on the COVID-19 situation and what the Government is thinking, as well as on what Singaporeans can expect and do to fight the novel coronavirus.

“The situation will get worse before it gets better, but we have to get through this, before the sun comes out and shines on us again.”

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