Virus spread in Singapore dorms not due to poor conditions says Parliament Speaker

The massive outbreak of the coronavirus cases among the migrant foreign workers in Singapore in dormitories for them cannot be attributed to bad living conditions alone even if there are abysmal examples, a senior politician has said.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin on Thursday pointed out that the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus and the fact that dormitories involve groups of people living in close quarters are more likely to have contributed to the spread.

Tan has assured that there are things that can be improved on and the Government will be taking stock of the lessons learnt and the adjustments that need to be made.

"It is something that we will work on, but meanwhile, let''s grapple with the (present) issues, look after our people and look after all the (foreigners) people who are here in Singapore who are affected in different ways," The Straits Times reported on Friday quoting Tan as saying.

Ongoing medical testing at dormitories has led to a spike in the number of coronavirus cases among foreign workers, including Indian nationals, who are lodged in dormitories.

Dormitories are now the main focus on the coronavirus spread for its cramped and poorly maintained living spaces of some of the foreign workers and their low-quality catered meals.

Singapore reported 741 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 20,939 since the disease emerged here in January 2020. A total of 18,483 of 323,000 migrant workers living in dormitories have tested positive of the virus. Twenty people have died from the disease in the country.

Tan, who was Manpower Minister from 2014 to 2015, said it was important not to conflate the two issues of bad living conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic, which he called a healthcare crisis of "monumental proportions".

"For example, in our universities, if the hostels remained open and the students were there, you would expect a massive outbreak to occur as well. If people are living in close quarters, given the contagious nature of this virus, outbreaks will occur," The Straits Times quoted Tan as explaining.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event for migrant worker dorms on Thursday, Tan responded to questions on the COVID-19 outbreak in the dormitories.

Tan stressed that it was not about "white-washing" cases of "abysmal" dorm conditions, but one should not generalise that all living conditions are as such.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had assured Parliament on Monday that the Government will see how housing standards for migrant workers can be further raised.

"It doesn''t excuse (bad conditions), it is not acceptable and we need to take stringent action against those who violate the law - but it doesn''t represent the whole space and that''s the context that is important,” the Parliament Speaker was quoted as saying.

"It is important to speak to the migrant workers as a whole for their lived experience to have a sense of the conditions. And given the scale and nature of this outbreak, we should not conflate the causes with these less-than-accurate generalisations," said Tan.
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