'Singapore dormitory lockdown is a virus time bomb' - RTHK
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'Singapore dormitory lockdown is a virus time bomb'

2020-04-06 HKT 18:35
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  • A view of a worker dormitory in Singapore where a quarantine is in effect amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Reuters
    A view of a worker dormitory in Singapore where a quarantine is in effect amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Reuters
Migrant workers living in vast Singapore dormitories cut off from the outside world due to the coronavirus outbreak fear their cramped and squalid quarters are fast becoming a hotbed for infection.

Singapore on Sunday said it had quarantined nearly 20,000 workers in two dormitories, made up of mainly Bangladeshi and other South Asian manual workers, after they were linked to at least 90 infections.

The government said the action was needed to prevent broader transmission in the city-state - which is closing schools and offices this week due to a spike in cases - and said it had taken measures to reduce worker interaction in the dormitories and ensure they received salary, meals and medical support.

But the move has been criticised by rights groups and others who say it may be discriminatory and risks exposing healthy individuals to a higher chance of infection.

"If anyone is infected with the virus in our room or in our block, it is just a matter of time to catch the virus," said Majidul Haq, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi, who is in a dormitory with some 13,000 other workers.

Haq and three other workers said they sleep in cramped 12-bed bunk rooms, share toilets and basins often blocked from overuse, and that cockroaches and overflowing refuse bins are a common sight.

The manager of the dormitory and the government manpower ministry did not immediately comment.

On Monday, six police cars lined the road outside the purpose-built, low-rise complex and a police tent had been erected at its entrance. The only activity came from the coming and going of several ambulances and masked workers ferrying rubbish into large plastic bins.

Amnesty International said the quarantine was "a recipe for disaster".

"As it stands, the quarantine at these dormitories may be discriminatory and amount to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty," said the charity's Singapore researcher, Rachel Chhoa-Howard.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Alex Au, vice president of rights group, Transient Workers Count Too.

"When you pack people in such density...all this mantra about isolation and social distancing is useless."

To combat rising virus cases, Singapore has advised its residents to stay home, not socialise and maintain a metre distance between each other if they have to go out for essential activities like shopping. (Reuters)