Singapore – The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak gave his account surrounding the events that led to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) advisories to employers of foreign workers relating to Covid-19 testing.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday (July 7), Associate Professor Mak confirmed that the circulars weren’t something that MOM initiated on their own but came from a request by the MOH. “The MOH asked MOM to intervene and engage employers,” said Assoc Prof Mak. He said that they had received feedback from hospitals regarding the influx of employees and workers at the A&E (Accident and Emergency) department wanting to be tested who were well and asymptomatic. “The supervisors were demanding for certificates and memos to be issued to those workers to deem them fit and free from Covid infections so that they can be allowed to go back to work,” explained Associate Prof Mak.
He noted that a single negative PCR test would not be able to confirm any worker was free from infection at all and hospitals could not issue such a memo in good faith. Associate Prof Mak also mentioned that this happened at a time when the A&E departments were busy and had to tend to patients with symptoms. “And now, to have a group of asymptomatic workers coming in would distract them from tending to more sick and ill patients.”
The MOH had asked MOM to convey the same feedback to employers and advised them to direct their workers to more appropriate places for testing such as general practitioners or family physicians which were capable of providing a proper health assessment. However, about a week after the first circular was released, employers still persisted in sending their workers to the A&E department, revealed Assoc Prof Mak. Another more strongly-worded advisory was released by MOM hopefully to get the message across, he added.
The issue of the advisories has been circulating in media, with opposition voices such as Singapore Democratic Party chairman Dr Paul Tambyah who noted that the circulars were signed off by MOM and didn’t contain any representative from the MOH. Correction notices by the POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulative Act) office were issued to various media outlets to clarify the incident after quoting Dr Tambyah on the situation.
Netizens responded to Associate Prof Mak’s speech and saw it as “an excuse for not taking Covid-19 seriously” from the start. Facebook user Albert Oh Choon Sin pointed out the “mistake and lack of logic” especially from a medical professional’s perspective in dealing with foreign workers differently when they too were human beings. “Did you seriously believe by sending them away from A&E with a warning would solve the problem?” he asked. “Or did you think the foreign workers were immuned (sic) to Covid?”
Furthermore, threatening to revoke work pass privileges just to keep workers away from the hospitals “doesn’t seem appropriate, all things considered,” added Facebook user Ja Ck.
Meanwhile, a concerned citizen, Tibetan Sun, asked for the names of the “so-called medical professionals” consulted by the multi-ministry task force which gave the go signal to hold the General Elections amid a pandemic.