Once recognized as the model nation for its coronavirus response, Singapore now represents a cautionary tale as tackles the region's largest coronavirus outbreak.
Singapore’s Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong says the coronavirus outbreak is still far from being defeated. The Minister’s concern stems from the risk of COVID-19 spread in the dormitories of migrant workers.
The Minister described the outbreak as “very serious,” and the nation is focused on containing it in the short-term.
This is still the first half of the marathon.
Countries with limited manpower typically outsource a large portion of local jobs to neighboring countries. In the case of Singapore, it heavily relies on migrant employees to build infrastructure such as roads and buildings.
A migrant dormitory in Singapore houses up to 24,000 workers. According to a report from The Guardian, the biggest dormitory in the country housed 20 people in a single room with bunk beds.
The problem with the large-scale dormitories in Singapore is overcrowding. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, countries frantically implemented social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus.
Highly crowded rooms and facilities with a lack of safety measures can increase the spread of coronavirus.
A study in South Korea found that the basic reproduction number (R0) of coronavirus can reach as high as 12. That means, one coronavirus patient can infected 12 people, and the 12 people can infect 144 people, and so on.
Minister Wong said that Singapore is carrying out extensive tests across major dormitories to identify infected individuals. He emphasized that the government is testing asymptomatic workers as well.
But, given the crowded nature of the dormitories, Wong said that Singapore is “still picking up quite a high number” of coronavirus cases.
Overcrowded areas pose a significant threat to the resurgence of coronavirus. During a period wherein scientists warn the possibility of COVID-19 being a seasonal form of virus, it is critical to reduce new cases on a daily basis.
Singapore confirmed the addition of 788 new cases over the last 24 hours, as the total number of cases surpassed 20,000.
The comments of Minister Wong that Singapore is at the halfway line of overcoming coronavirus led to fears that countries which initially saw plateauing cases can accelerate again.
Countries in the Middle East also have large-scale migrant worker dormitories that are at risk of causing mass coronavirus infections.
Studies showed that in the MERS epidemic, packed dormitories fastened the speed of the virus.
University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said:
New findings from an investigation into a large MERS-CoV cluster in a women’s dormitory revealed that crowded living conditions can lead to higher attack rates and hints that even healthcare workers who don’t directly care for patients can play a role in disease spread.
Dormitories in the Middle East are at a similar risk as Singapore of seeing a potential outbreak in the future.
Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry recently confirmed that the vast majority of 3,000 new cases in the past week came from foreign residents.
International Labor Organization’s migration specialist Ryszard Cholewinski said that the data was to be expected. Migrant dormitories pose a “perfect storm” to spread coronavirus due to the absence of strong safety precautions and resources.
This article was edited by Samburaj Das.