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Short report
Migrant workers and COVID-19

Abstract

Objectives Daily numbers of COVID-19 in Singapore from March to May 2020, the cause of a surge in cases in April and the national response were examined, and regulations on migrant worker accommodation studied.

Methods Information was gathered from daily reports provided by the Ministry of Health, Singapore Statues online and a Ministerial statement given at a Parliament sitting on 4 May 2020.

Results A marked escalation in the daily number of new COVID-19 cases was seen in early April 2020. The majority of cases occurred among an estimated 295 000 low-skilled migrant workers living in foreign worker dormitories. As of 6 May 2020, there were 17 758 confirmed COVID-19 cases among dormitory workers (88% of 20 198 nationally confirmed cases). One dormitory housing approximately 13 000 workers had 19.4% of residents infected. The national response included mobilising several government agencies and public volunteers. There was extensive testing of workers in dormitories, segregation of healthy and infected workers, and daily observation for fever and symptoms. Twenty-four dormitories were declared as ‘isolation areas’, with residents quarantined for 14 days. New housing, for example, vacant public housing flats, military camps, exhibition centres, floating hotels have been provided that will allow for appropriate social distancing.

Conclusion The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted migrant workers as a vulnerable occupational group. Ideally, matters related to inadequate housing of vulnerable migrant workers need to be addressed before a pandemic.

  • occupational health practice
  • migrant workers

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