Singapore — With five Bangladeshis from a single construction site testing positive for Covid-19, there is growing concern about the virus among Bangladeshi foreign workers in Singapore.
One of the five workers is said to be in very critical condition, according to the Bangladesh Foreign Minister.
Around 150,000 Bangladeshis work in Singapore, which makes them one of the biggest foreign worker communities in the country.
A report from Reuters on Tuesday (Feb 25) quoted Mr Tariqul Islam, a shopkeeper in Lembu Road in Little India, as saying: “A lot of people have gone back. When people think about life or family, they don’t care about money.”
Living conditions are often cramped for migrant workers in Singapore, especially for those who work in construction. Many of the instances of the spread of the virus have been observed in situations of living closely together, such as the prison in Wuhan and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan.
Meanwhile, another foreign worker has been infected in Singapore. On Sunday (Feb 23), the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said a Filipino had tested positive for Covid-19 and had been admitted to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
In other countries, domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines have tested positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong, while a Bangladeshi has tested positive in the United Arab Emirates.
The Reuters report quoted 24-year-old Bangladeshi construction worker Kakon Miyan as saying that many of his friends had returned to Bangladesh and planned to stay there until there were no more cases in Singapore.
While he and the majority are still in Singapore, he said they may follow suit. “We’re staying for now, but maybe if the situation worsens then we will go back too.”
Bangladesh High Commission officials, in order to persuade the workers to stay, have been visiting them in their dorms, giving out masks and hand sanitisers. They have also been giving pamphlets in Bengali about Covid-19 so that the workers have a better understanding of the disease.
According to High Commissioner Mustafizur Rahman: “We are becoming a bit proactive to stop them leaving the country … to assure them that this is not something we should be excessively or illogically fearful about.”
Like workers from other countries, many Bangladeshis incur a substantial amount of debt in order to process their working papers, which makes it difficult for some to leave despite fears for their health. Others feel compelled to stay because they help support their families back home.
There are also those who are confident of the quality of healthcare and the disease prevention measures in Singapore.
However, the Reuters report quotes one travel agent that caters to workers from Bangladesh as saying that more flights there have been booked over the past two weeks, and some bookings were done for the following day. Mr Rauf Naushard said: “It never happened before. They had travel plans before. Nowadays … they just want to leave.” /TISG
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