Singapore was hit hard later in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the number of cases per day hasn’t gone below 250 since early April. Now we’re averaging around 300-600 daily, and the people getting infected are mostly living in worker dormitories. Our building is next to one of these dorms, so I used to see them often. Most of the workers are immigrants from other parts of Asia, who often work in construction or shipping (since Singapore is an important port). Many of them don’t have access to very good healthcare, since that is up to the provision of their employer. These worker dormitories are now under strict quarantine, and I’ve seen on the news that some people have been moved offshore to floating temporary homes in order to attempt social distancing.
This isn’t the first time that Singapore has had outbreaks in the dormitories. Every year during dengue season (the hotter months of June to October), the dense population of people and mosquitoes in the dormitories puts them at a higher risk of being infected by dengue fever. These dorms consist of rooms where often 20 or more people live, all of whom are required to sleep in bunk beds. When our borders were still open, those who were infected often had their work visas revoked and were deported back to their home countries. It’s frustrating that we’ve seen these same patterns before, yet have been unable to prevent it from happening again, with the coronavirus.
The government has recently announced plans to build 11 more worker housing areas, which can house up to 100,000 people, to reduce the population density and fight the spread of the virus. Yet, seeing how important migrant workers are to our city/country, it feels inadequate that it took a global pandemic for us to do something like this for them. The modern skyline of Singapore skyscrapers, as well as all our commercial malls and comforts, would not exist without the work of the immigrants who build them and uphold them. Yet they live in fear of disease, unable to speak up for fear of losing their temporary contracts and being sent back to their home countries. Although in many ways COVID-19 was unprecedented, the outbreaks in worker dormitories were not.
These workers are not disposable and shouldn’t be treated as such. It shouldn’t have taken our government and our people so long to realize that change is needed, and I hope that mindset continues once the pandemic is over. We always say that we are living under “one Singapore”, a Singapore where we all support one another and our country. That Singapore cannot be true until that includes everyone.
Written by: Michelle Zimmermann