TWC2 volunteers monitor the media and government statements to stay abreast of developments regarding Covid-19 in SIngapore, particularly the situation among migrant workers residing in dormitories. Starting this month, and (hopefully) for the next few months, we will share here a summary of the information we have gleaned.

If readers spot any errors or can help fill any gaps in the picture, please drop a note to <info@twc2.org.sg> with the header “Covid-19 summary, attention Kellock”.

Quick Summary

  • COVID cases still appear daily in the workers’ dormitories, but the numbers continue to decline. New dorm cases in the last week of September are down about 76% compared to the last week of August and 97% compared with the last week of July.
  • The vast majority of new cases are among the 43 large Purpose-Built Dorms (PBDs) and above all in the largest of these dorms. By contrast, the 1,200 or so smaller Factory-Converted Dorms (FCDs) have seen barely any new cases in September. This is a factor to consider in setting future dorm policy.

Key numbers

Data here is derived from Ministry of Health (MOH) figures, primarily their Daily Reports: https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/situation-report

Cumulative cases (since start of the pandemic)

  • As of 30 September, a total of 54,449 dorm residents have been declared infected, representing a 1.5% increase in cases during the month of September. By contrast, in August we saw an increase of 9%, so the rate of increase has slowed substantially.
  • The 54,449 cases represent about 17% of the total dorm population of 323,000.

New cases

  • In the week to 30 September, 83 new dorm cases were declared, a 76% drop compared to the 344 dorm cases in the final week of August and a 97% drop compared to the 2,771 dorm cases in the final week of July.
  • For September as a whole, a total of 797 new cases were detected in dorms, an average of about 27 new cases per day. There was a brief spike around 9 to 11 September with about 75 new dorm cases per day during those three days, but since mid-September daily new cases in dorms have averaged about 14 per day.

Deaths and critical illness

Happily, Singapore has seen no new COVID deaths nor patients admitted to intensive care during September, either among foreign workers or other residents. The last COVID death in Singapore was announced on 13 July (Singaporean, not a migrant worker) and since 6 August there have been no COVID cases in ICU.

Hospitalised and in care facilities

As of 30 September there were 250 people in hospitals and Community Care Facilities (CCFs), about 78% down compared to the figure of 1,127 at the end of August and about 96% down compared to the figure of 5,687 at the end of July. (These are total numbers in Hospitals plus CCFs and they are across the total population, not just migrant workers.)

Dorm clearance

Around mid-August, the authorities declared the dorms cleared. (For details see our report for August at https://twc2.org.sg/2020/09/03/covid-19-in-the-dorms-summary-for-august-2020/ )

But new cases continue to appear daily in the dorms, totalling 797 cases in September. This is attributed (see footnote 1) to two major factors:

  • Cases undetected during earlier testing, for example because the person tested had contracted the virus only a short time before the test and the virus concentration was too low to be detected.
  • Infection due to contact with other infected individuals, either within the dorms or outside, for example at the workplace. (September saw outbreaks in at least two worksites, notably 17 cases associated with the Kenyon/UBS site at 9 Penang Rd.)

Examining the specific dormitories in which these 797 September cases have occurred, a striking fact stands out: the vast majority of cases were in the 43 large Purpose-Built Dorms (PBDs), each of which houses between 1000 and 25,000 men. From the data we have seen, only two of the cases occurred in the approximately 1,200 Factory-Converted Dorms (FCDs) which house from about 10 to 1000 men each. Furthermore, among the PDBs, the problem is very strongly correlated with the larger dorms:  the top third of PBDs by capacity (15 dorms) had about 75% of the new cases September, while bottom third by capacity (14 dorms) had none.

So new COVID cases in Singapore are predominantly now in the large PBDs. As the authorities consider the future of dorm regulation in Singapore and specifically the question of upper limit on dorm size, this is a factor which should be considered: it seems that clearing an infection like COVID completely from large dorms is much more difficult than clearing it from small dorms, even from a far larger number of small dorms.

We also examined the September data from a geospatial perspective, to see if there was any sign that infected dorms were clustered in certain areas – something which would suggest new COVID cases are a result of workers coming into contact with workers from other nearby dorms.  But there is no sign of such clustering: the PBDs with new infections are scattered around the map apparently at random (and equally so dorms without new infections), strongly suggesting that new infections are being spread primarily within dorms, not between them.

A welcome development for dorm residents is that in the last few days the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has announced measures to reduce the number who need to be isolated in the case of new infections, for example isolating only workers living on a single floor or section of a dorm rather than an entire block (see footnote2). This should significantly reduce the number of workers who lose income and freedom in lockdowns.

Testing

New cases in the dorms are being detected both by the appearance of symptoms and by Rostered Routine Testing.  RRT is an initiative in which all dorm residents (and some other workers) are being tested every two weeks (see footnote 3). According to a Straits Times article on 26 Sep, 232 cases were detected by RRT since 11 August (see footnote 4) and according to MOH’s daily Situation Reports a total of 2,063 new cases were declared in the dorms between 11 Aug and 25 Sep. Combining these figures (ie 232/2,063) suggests that about 11% of new cases are being detected through RRT.

Note: The following testing figures are based on some assumptions about the meaning of the MOH figures and are across the total population, not just migrant workers or dorm residents. So far we’ve been unable to find out what fraction of these are migrant workers, but since the epidemic is (and has been since April) mainly among the migrant workers, it is reasonable to assume that these numbers mostly comprise migrant workers.

From cumulative testing data released by MOH approximately weekly (see footnote 5), we derive average daily figures for swab testing. This has increased about 37% in September, with an average of about 29k tests per day compared with 21k in August. The figures also indicate that the number of unique individuals tested has remained fairly constant at about 5.4k people per day, implying that the number of tests per individual has increased, from about 3.9 tests per person in August to 5.4 tests per person in September. This is consistent with reports of more thorough and regular testing of workers in the effort to weed out remaining cases in the dorms. 

One mystery remains. As mentioned in last month’s report, so far we have been unable to square MOH testing data with statements about the level of Rostered Routine Testing (RRT). MOM states that dorm residents and some other workers numbering about 387k in total (see footnote 6) are required to undergo Rostered Routine Testing (RRT) every 14 days (see footnote 7). This equates to testing about 28k individuals each day, which is a long way from the ~5.4k individuals per day figure we derived above from MOH figures.

We welcome input from anyone who can shed light on this seeming disparity

Additional information

Wikipedia has a detailed timeline of the COVID pandemic in Singapore, with many dorm-specific details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_in_Singapore