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Singapore experts weigh in on the Covid-19 situation

"Dormitory spacing in an issue that needs to addressed," said expert Hsu Li Yang as the International Labour Organization and Ministry of Manpower’s guidelines for spacing of workers is inadequate

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Singapore – Professors and Research Associates from Singapore’s top universities have shared their insights on the Covid-19 pandemic based on their respective fields of expertise, noting that more attention should be placed on foreign worker dormitories if the country hopes to turn the corner soon.

The Independent Singapore has reached out to the experts within the country and asked them for feedback on the Covid-19 situation, notably as the numbers of confirmed cases surge.

Bridget Welsh, Senior Research Associate at the Nanyang Technological University, commended the impressive efforts of the Government in protecting the population. “Its continued interventions in the face of rising cases speak to the hands-on management of the crisis, despite the rise of cases in recent days,” said Ms Welsh.

However, the virus exposes areas where governance is not inclusive, and the emergence and rapidly increasing numbers of new cases among foreign workers “show the real problems of exclusion and lack of effective outreach to more vulnerable communities,” she added.

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Ms Welsh emphasised that civil society engagement is needed now more than ever, “as the most effective virus response comes from the broadest buy-in.

“The International Labour Organization and Ministry of Manpower’s guidelines for spacing in worker dormitories are inadequate for preventing the spread of Covid-19,” added Hsu Li Yang. He is the Infectious Diseases Programme Leader and an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

Amid the strict distancing tantamount to a lockdown and the new Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill which prohibit even private social gatherings, Mr Hsu noted that foreign worker dormitories remain the exception to seeing a decline in new cases within a week or two after strict compliance to the circuit breaker measures.

Dormitory spacing in an issue that needs to addressed, said Mr Hsu. “A different strategy, perhaps moving a proportion to different living/isolation facilities to create the possibility of safe distancing coupled with extensive testing for the virus, will be required to control the spread there.”

Lockdown or vaccine
Meanwhile, Associate Professor of Sociology at NUS, Tan Ern Ser, shared that a logical next step in battling the pandemic would be a lockdown, “but it would be a last resort.” Mr Tan added that “there are difficult trade-off’s to consider, and any decision would have their pros and cons.”

Although it would be easy for the public to not be personally responsible for the outcome of decisions to advocate a lockdown, “they may be the first to complain when it affects them on a personal level,” said Mr Tan.

He is hoping that the “judgment call” would be made on balance between saving lives and livelihood. “The best scenario would be an effective vaccine being developed,” said Mr Tan.

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COVID-19: 142 new cases reported in biggest daily spike for SG; 20 connected to S11 Dormitory cluster

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