Medical teams comprising doctors and nurses from hospitals and polyclinics will be deployed to all foreign worker dormitories by the middle of this week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Tuesday (Apr 14).
MOH director of medical services Kenneth Mak said seven to eight such teams are already on the ground, with another 15 to 18 teams moving in on Tuesday.
The teams will be staffed by between one to three doctors and at least three nurses depending on the size of the dormitory and needs on the ground, Associate Professor Mak said.
These medical professionals have willingly stepped forward to support foreign workers, he added.
“They tend to the workers who are unwell, swab those who have acute respiratory symptoms, they manage the cases that need to be sent to other facilities and then they will also assess if the workers are well enough to be returned to their rooms,” Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Their presence in the dormitories gives great confidence to the workers who are there.”
Authorities had announced on Thursday that medical posts would be set up in the dormitories to actively test workers and separate those who are infected. Those unwell would also get prompt medical treatment.
This comes amid a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in dormitories, with clusters emerging in 14 of them across Singapore. The cluster at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol is the largest.
Eight dormitories housing tens of thousands of workers have been declared as isolation areas so far, meaning that the workers will not be allowed to leave their rooms for 14 days.
Assoc Prof Mak said the medical teams will be assisted by swab testing teams to test workers who might be symptomatic, beyond those who are attended to at the medical posts. This also helps increase testing capacity.
The medical teams will also work with the Forward Assurance and Support Teams to set up on-site isolation facilities, said Mrs Teo.
“We now have seven medical outposts set up at the gazetted (isolation) dorms, and aim to have medical touchpoints at all 43 purpose-built dorms,” she added.
While medical outposts will be set up at all the purpose-built dormitories, workers from factory-converted dormitories can rely on the Public Health Preparedness Clinics across the island, she said.
These are some 900 clinics designated to look after patients with respiratory symptoms amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Aggressive Testing Regime
While Assoc Prof Mak said he did not have exact figures on the number of tests conducted on workers each day, he pointed out that 1,500 workers were tested over the weekend, with another 5,000 expected to be tested over the next few days.
Assoc Prof Mak said medical teams will also test high-risk workers who are asymptomatic and have not stepped forward, including workers who shared a room with confirmed cases.
“We have also tested … workers who have been transferred out from the dormitories that are deemed as isolation areas to make sure that as we transfer workers from one place to another, we’re not also seeding new areas and therefore causing more clusters,” he added.
Assoc Prof Mak said Singapore still has the capacity to conduct more tests on workers, but authorities are spacing them out to avoid overloading hospitals and tiring out medical teams on the ground.
“We will make plans to try and test as many of them as possible,” he added. “And that is irrespective of whether or not we have holding capacity or testing constraints.”
About 7,000 essential workers have been moved out of the 43 purpose-built dormitories – large dormitories that house between 3,000 to 25,000 workers – to alternative types of accommodation such as HDB flats and army camps, Mrs Teo said.
Essential workers living in the other 1,200 factory-converted dormitories – smaller dormitories that typically house between 50 to 500 workers each – will also be moved out soon. About 95,000 foreign workers stay in factory-converted dormitories.
They will be medically screened before they are shifted to live elsewhere, she said.
In the meantime, she reiterated, while working or travelling to their workplaces, these workers must practice “strict” safe distancing measures.
“We hold the employers of these essential workers responsible,” she said.
“Roving” groups of government officers will be sent to help factory-converted dormitory owners implement safe distancing measures.
Such teams, comprising police, army and manpower ministry officers, have already be deployed to help the purpose-built dormitories since last Wednesday.