Nearly Half of Migrant Workers in Singapore Dorms Have Had Virus

Serology testing has revealed nearly half of the 323,000 migrant workers living in Singapore dormitories were infected with Covid-19, far higher than the official tally and indicating the virus spreads widely among people who may not have any symptoms.

The city-state has reported more than 54,500 infections in dormitories since the pandemic began, making up more than 93% of all confirmed cases. Another 98,289 workers were found positive through serology testing -- which identifies those who had been infected in the past -- contributing to an overall prevalence rate of 47%, according to a statement by the Ministry of Manpower on Monday.

The finding is further proof that Covid-19 infection is vastly under-detected across the board, and reflects the prevalence of the virus in tightly-spaced worker accommodations. In neighboring Malaysia, which supplies about two-thirds of the world’s latex gloves, the government last month imposed mandatory Covid-19 screening for the 1.7 million foreign workers in the country.

For every Covid-19 infection in the dormitories detected through the polymerase chain reaction testing, “another 1.8 cases were untested and undetected at the time, and were identified subsequently only through serology testing,” the statement said. “This is not surprising as many migrant workers did not have any symptoms, and thus would not have sought treatment and received a PCR test in the process.”

Migrant workers, who were largely confined to the dormitories and work sites since infections were discovered there earlier this year, are gradually being allowed more freedom. At the peak of the outbreak in April, more than 1,000 new cases a day were being detected in those accommodations. Since then, strict lockdown measures followed by an aggressive testing regime has brought those figures down to zero, or close to it.

Singapore recently announced it would start a pilot program early next year to allow migrant workers in some dormitories to access the community once a month, subject to compliance with testing requirements and wearing of contact-tracing devices. The decision follows another in October that allows some migrant workers to visit recreation centers.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.