Singapore Unveils New Healthcare Measures as Covid-19 Cases Jump

(Bloomberg) -- Singapore’s government outlined a plan to expand healthcare facilities for foreign workers as coronavirus cases in the city-state jumped, reversing a downward trend.

The Ministry of Health on Friday confirmed an additional 932 cases, the vast majority of whom are work permit holders residing in foreign worker dormitories. Five are Singaporeans or permanent residents. That brings total confirmed cases to almost 17,000.

The increase comes as Singapore has more than doubled its daily testing capacity since early April and scaled up medical facilities by adding capacity at isolation wards and intensive care units. On Friday, officials unveiled a suite of additional measures including onsite medical facilities at all 43 purpose-built dormitories, medical posts that will serve factory-converted dormitories housing around 65,000 workers, and 12 mobile medical teams made up of more than 50 medical personnel.

Ministry of Manpower Permanent Secretary Aubeck Kam said it will be “some weeks yet” before workers can return to the community. Singapore’s construction industry is powered by foreign labor.

Once touted as an early success story in containing the spread of Covid-19, Singapore now has among Asia’s highest number of cases. The surge in infections has been driven by hundreds of new cases every day from migrant worker dormitories. The conditions in those facilities, which nationwide house more than 300,000 people, can often be cramped, with 10 or more workers to a single unit.

While new cases at the dormitories remain high, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an address on Thursday that there were only about 10 to 15 new community cases each day after the government earlier this month imposed a partial lockdown that closed schools and most offices. That so-called circuit breaker has been extended until June 1.

Lee, in his annual speech to mark May Day, said when the government does move to open the economy, some industries will restart earlier than others, including those that are critical to the economy and global supply chains. Other sectors “will have to wait,” he said.

“Significant structural changes to our economy are likely,” he said. “Some industries will be disrupted permanently. Companies will have to change their business models to survive. Some jobs will simply disappear.”

Officials said Friday more than 18,000 beds have been set up for isolation and care, with a further 23,000 in the pipeline. To date, more than 25,000 foreign workers have been tested.

Over the past four weeks, more than 10 million meals have been delivered to cater to different nationalities and food preferences and workers have been given avenues to purchase items online from mini-marts.

Access to remittance services is also now available at the 43 purpose-built dormitories and over 410,000 care packs containing items such as thermometers and hand sanitizers have been distributed, the government said at Friday’s briefing.

The Singapore Tourism Board said earlier in a Facebook post that cruise ship SuperStar Gemini has started receiving foreign workers who have recovered from the coronavirus. A second ship, SuperStar Aquarius, has passed assessment by authorities and is ready to bring in migrant workers.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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