In our previous update (Seven Covid-19 cases among dorm residents in past six weeks, 16 May 2021), we reported seven cases of Covid-19 among dormitory residents in the six weeks from 1 April 2021 to mid-May 2021.
This report extends the period to the full second quarter, i.e from 1 April to 30 June 2021.
A further eight cases were discovered after our last update, making it a total of 15 cases in this quarter.
As can be seen from this graph from Channel NewsAsia which covers two months 1 May to 29 June, these 15 dorm cases — represented by salmon pink bars — were far outnumbered by “community” and imported cases. The term “community” also includes other migrant workers not staying in dorms.
The graph shows how Singapore saw a moderate surge of cases in May and June, resulting in tightened restrictions from 16 May to 13 June to curtail the virus’ further spread. Workers in dorms got the worst of it again, being totally locked down, save for being taken out to work by their employers. Unlike other Singaporeans, migrant workers were not allowed to leave their dorms even to make quick purchases at shops a mere walking distance away, during the May to June period.
Why they should suffer disproportionately when the latest surge did not involve them remains a matter that policy-makers have to answer for.
In the earlier update, we wrote that six of seven cases were men whose work involved ships to some degree. Three worked at shipping terminals and three at shipyards. All six were fully vaccinated and five of them were asymptomatic. The one mildly symptomatic case had only just received his second dose which may explain why he was not fully protected.
The seventh man was from the construction sector. It was later reported that although his initial test result was positive, a subsequent result was negative. Most likely he was only shedding fragments of the virus from a past infection back in Bangladesh.
Eight cases between late May and end of June
Five of the eight cases in the latter part of the period under review involved construction workers who shared the same room in a dormitory called Harvest@Woodlands. The Ministry of Health press release did not state their vaccination status but this can be interpreted to mean that they were not yet vaccinated — since those press releases usually state vaccination status when the patients had been vaccinated. Of these five roommates, only one was symptomatic, with a fever. Four were asymptomatic.
The sixth man did not live at Harvest@Woodlands, but worked there. He lived instead at Woodlands Lodge 2. He reported that he had not interacted with the five above-mentioned cases. Thus guy was asymptomatic and was detected only through rostered routine testing. He had received two doses of vaccine in March 2021.
The seventh man worked in a shipyard as a plumber. He lived at Avery Lodge in Jalan Papan. He was asymptomatic and in fact had been fully vaccinated in March 2021.
The eighth man was an electrician who was identified as a close contact of another foreign worker, both being employed by Ecoxplore Pte Ltd. As a close contact, he was tested (positive) and a little later developed a runny nose. He had received two doses of vaccine in April, nearly two months before his case was detected on 14 June 2021. This eighth man lived in Westlite Juniper dorm in Mandai.
The co-worker in Ecoxplore Pte Ltd is not included in our list here because he was not living in a dorm.
Here’s a summary in graphical form of all 15 cases from the second quarter of 2021:
“You cannot expect people to live like that”
In a video conversation [youtube link] with Salma Khalik of the Straits Times aired 1 July 2021, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung spoke about how opening up the aviation sector may prove to be the hardest hurdle. The data above (limited as it is because of the low number of cases) hints at the same. Workers in the marine sector involving seagoing vessels seem to be getting Covid-19 more often than construction workers, even though the latter outnumber marine sector workers by a large margin, and even though nearly all workers in the marine sector are now fully vaccinated. Fortunately, because of vaccination, they are not getting ill, or at least not seriously ill.
Elsewhere in the video conversation (starting from 6 minutes 45 seconds), the Health minister said, “You cannot expect people to live like that – restricting themselves, not meeting friends, not being able to travel.” He was referring to Singaporeans, but he should try saying the same to migrant workers stuck in dorms. They might howl and hiss at him, because dorm residents have been expected to live like that — by the government through its rules — since April 2020.
Even now with a bit of loosening in late June, they are only allowed a short three-hour visit to the nearby shops once a week for “essential errands”. They are not given enough time to socialise with friends staying elsewhere, go to places of worship or even get downtown from their dorms which are typically located at the fringes of industrial areas. These inhumane restrictions are still being imposed on them despite the low infection numbers which the above graph shows.
This is another example of how we treat migrant workers as less worthy of consideration than ourselves.
See also: No dormitory case of Covid-19 in month of March 2021 — which also provides data for seven preceding months.