SINGAPORE – Covid-19 safeguards for foreign workers will be tightened with immediate effect, after a new cluster of cases was detected at the Westlite Woodlands dormitory earlier this week.
The multi-ministry task force said on Thursday (April 22) that this is to prevent potential “leaks” – involving new variants of the virus from Indian workers who have just arrived – into the foreign worker dormitories, though it stressed that there is no evidence that the recent cases at Westlite Woodlands are linked to the new Covid-19 strain from India.
All newly arrived foreign workers from higher-risk countries and regions, including those with a positive serology result, will now have to serve the full 14 days of their stay-home notice (SHN) period at a dedicated facility, Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said on Thursday.
After clearing a Covid-19 test, they will be sent to the Migrant Workers Onboarding Centre (MWOC) for an additional seven-day testing regime, and clear another Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction test before leaving.
Previously, some of these foreign workers only had to serve their SHN for four days in dedicated facilities before being sent to Quick Build Dormitories serving as MWOCs for the remainder of their SHN period, as well as for the seven-day testing regime.
Those with a positive serology result also did not have to serve the 14-day SHN period.
Newly arrived foreign workers with a positive serology result will also now have to go through a rostered routine testing (RRT) regime, where they will be tested for Covid-19 every two weeks, he said at a virtual press conference.
They were previously exempt from this.
From April 29, recovered workers living in dorms as well as workers from the construction, marine and process sectors who are living in Singapore and who have crossed 270 days from the date of their Covid -19 infection will no longer be exempted from prevailing public health measures.
They will be enrolled back on rostered routing testing once they cross the 270-day mark. If they have been identified as close contacts of Covid-19 cases, they will also be subjected to quarantine in case of potential reinfection, added Dr Tan.
This move comes despite the fact that studies have shown that immunity after recovering from Covid-19 lasts beyond 300 days, said Dr Tan. “(This allows us to) maintain a tighter safety margin,” the minister added.
This also follows a review by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Manpower, in consultation with infectious disease specialists, which found that there can be a possible gradual decrease in antibody levels in those who have recovered from Covid-19, said Dr Tan. This review was based on the latest scientific evidence from the cohort of recovered persons in Singapore nearing one year from the date of infection.
“Although this is just one indicator of immunity, given the new variants of the virus emerging, the risk of breakthrough immune protection could have increased,” he added.
On Thursday, MOH said that 17 workers who had recovered from Covid-19 staying at Westlite Woodlands dormitory have tested positive for Covid-19.
MOH, together with an expert panel which comprises infectious diseases and microbiology experts, is investigating if they are reinfection cases.
This comes after a 35-year-old Bangladeshi worker staying at the purpose-built dorm tested positive for the virus on Monday as part of rostered routine testing for migrant workers despite receiving both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The additional cases were detected after pre-emptive swab and serology tests were conducted on Tuesday on residents staying on the second to seventh floors of Block A of the dorm. The worker who tested positive on Monday stayed in the same block.
Dr Tan said the bulk of these foreign workers who tested positive are in the marine sector, and a stop-work order was issued at their worksite, on top of quarantining close contacts.
He added that foreign workers who have been vaccinated still have to go through rostered routine testing. This was how a recent case of a worker who tested positive for Covid-19 after being vaccinated had been picked up.