Singapore—From receiving praise for being the ‘gold standard’ to sounding alarm bells over the rising number of confirmed coronavirus cases among foreign workers has been Singapore’s trajectory over the last few weeks.
And while countries around the world are itching to relax their lockdown measures, they would do well to take a good look at Singapore’s experience with the coronavirus, and take some lessons. By any yardstick, Singapore did things right at the beginning of the outbreak—rigorous screening, contact tracing, isolating individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus, implementing restrictions on those under quarantine, and the like.
However, despite its efforts (and early success) at containment, Singapore’s cases grew tenfold within the month of March, ballooning from 100 to 1000 in four short weeks, and since then tripling to over 3,000 by April 15.
The rapid spread resulted in a circuit breaker that is a lockdown in everything but name, and countries watching Singapore’s experience are wondering if and how they can do any better, according to a recent report in The New York Times (NYT).
The NYT report quotes the vice provost of Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, Ezekiel Emanuel, as saying, “If Singapore can’t do it, I don’t imagine how we think we can. As I have said, this is going to be a roller coaster with multiple waves of opening and partial re-closings necessary.”
Singapore’s example has also sounded alarm bells that more attention should be paid to those living in marginalized communities that facilitate an easier spread of the virus. Countries need to be looking at their communities where there is overcrowding and/or poor sanitation, as Singapore “third wave” of infections primarily involved its migrant workers who live in dormitories with these conditions.
Singapore has over 200,000 migrant workers employed in its low-paying jobs such as cleaning, construction, and maintenance. The Los Angeles Times compares these communities to “farmworkers in California or construction crews in the Persian Gulf,” and authorities may want to look at Singapore as a cautionary tale and already take steps to prevent the outbreak the city-state is experiencing among its migrant workers.
The LA Times report quotes migrants’ rights workers advocate group Transient Workers Count Too‘s (TWC2) Alex Au as saying, “Singapore’s entire economic model is to reap the benefits of the cheap labour of the Third World in order to create our so-called First World economy.
It worked fine when you could completely segregate them from Singapore society and house them in dormitories in far-out parts of the city. The only problem is a virus comes along that does not respect this apartheid-type of segregation, and then you have an explosion.”
TWC2 had sounded alarm bells last month, writing a letter to The Straits Times (ST) asking the Government to disclose their plan of action in case a mass infection should break out in the dormitories of migrant workers.
But even earlier than that, on February 10, the founder of It’s Raining Raincoats, lawyer Dipa Swaminathan, drew attention to one infection cluster that had involved five Bangladeshi workers took to Facebook to write, “We have repeatedly voiced our concerns that the spread among them could be rapid, given the cramped conditions in which they live, work and are transported….. It’s Raining Raincoats is a migrant groups organization.
Such affected workers if not isolated, tested and treated could affect thousands of others if allowed to fly unchecked…. We hope the authorises (sic) will monitor carefully and do the needful.” —/TISG
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