Singapore scrambles as Covid-19 tears through construction community

Construction has all but halted in Singapore as the government scrambles to deal with a major Covid-19 outbreak among migrant construction workers.

From Monday, 20 April, 180,000 foreign construction workers were ordered to stay home until 4 May to halt transmission of coronavirus on sites.

Separately, 21 dormitories housing foreign workers – where Covid-19 has spread swiftly – have now been sealed off, The Straits Times reports. Foreign construction workers reside in a variety of accommodation types, including these privately operated dorms.

At the same time, the government is racing to build temporary accommodation both to decant uninfected men from the crowded dorms, where social distancing has been described as "impossible", and to house those who have fallen ill.

Among these initiatives is a "mega temporary structure" going up at Tanjong Pagar Terminal, which The Straits Times identified as needed to house 15,000 workers.

On Sunday, transport minister Khaw Boon Wan announced that his department was quickly building new accommodation and refitting other buildings to house 2,900 workers at the Changi East airport development site.

"We will need them when Terminal 5 construction project peaks," the minister wrote on Facebook.

After first appearing to have brought the coronavirus under control on its shores, Singapore now faces a fresh crisis, with cases soaring almost exclusively among foreign workers.

The health ministry reported a total of 11,178 cases today, up from 3,700 last week on 15 April, a rise of 202%.

Of the 1,037 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours, just 21 were among permanent residents and citizens. The rest were among foreign workers, on whom Singapore’s construction industry depends.

Workers stuck in the sealed-off dorms will be paid salaries, get three catered meals a day, and receive medical care onsite, as well as reusable masks, thermometers and hand sanitisers.

Transport minister Khaw Boon Wan described the effort to build new accommodation at Changi East as workers racing to help their colleagues.

"Many colleagues in the Changi Community are burning their weekends and nights to get all these activities up and running in double-quick time!" he wrote in his Facebook post.

"I know our foreign workers are appreciative of the efforts. They know that they are safer in Singapore now, than elsewhere, even at home."

The Covid-19 death toll in Singapore stands at 12, as of today.

Today, an Indian construction worker, who had Covid-19, died from injuries after falling down a flight of stairs at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Image: New dorms built to house workers at the Changi East airport development site (From the Facebook account of Singapore’s transport minister, Khaw Boon Wan)

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