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As a precautionary measure following the Westlite Woodlands Dormitory cluster, MOM's Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group, with the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Building Construction Authority (BCA) and the Economic Development Board (EDB), began pre-emptive COVID-19 testing operations across various dormitories and worksites last week. These tests are in addition to the Rostered Routine Testing (RRT) conducted on dormitory residents every 14 days, and includes both workers recovered from previous infections and workers who have never been infected. From 23 to 26 April, more than 5,500 workers were tested.
As announced by MOH on 22 April 2021, recovered workers who are past 270 days from their date of infection are now also subjected to RRT because of the risk of waning immunity and the threat of new variants of concern. When recovered workers are tested, we expect a proportion of them to return a positive result on the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. This does not necessarily mean that the recovered worker has been re-infected. Many recovered workers can test positive because of prolonged shedding of viral fragments from an old infection. These cases require further clinical assessment over several days to determine whether they are old or current infections. Movement restrictions or quarantines may be imposed on a dormitory if a few workers there test positive. This precaution is necessary for the duration of this assessment and will be lifted upon the testing operations' conclusion. If quarantines are imposed in some dormitories, this does not necessarily mean that there are confirmed clusters there. Most of the time, it is because cases are being assessed to determine if they are old or current infections.
MOH updated yesterday on the COVID-19 positive cases from Westlite Woodlands Dormitory. 24 recovered workers were found to be positive for COVID-19. These cases were immediately isolated and conveyed to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). Of the 24 cases, 11 cases have been assessed to be shedding virus fragments of old infections, and five are likely to be cases of COVID-19 re-infection. Two more cases have been determined to be negative for COVID-19 upon re-testing, and the remaining six cases are pending assessment by the expert panel. This illustrates that most COVID-19 positive cases among recovered workers may be assessed to be old infections.
Precautionary steps have also been taken to protect workers who are well and curtail the risk of transmission. Access to in-dormitory communal facilities and Recreation Centres (RCs) is still permitted but will be regulated to reduce the inter-mixing of workers. Movement between dormitory blocks continue to be disallowed and compliance to Safe Management Measures (SMM) have been stepped up. Workers have also been advised to cease social interactions with others who do not reside in the same room or floor. BCA has also stepped up inspections on SMMs at construction worksites.
MOM would like to assure all affected migrant workers that access to 24/7 medical assistance remains available. Comprehensive measures are also in place to look after the mental well-being of the affected workers. This includes counselling hotlines in migrant workers' native languages as well as care avenues available. We are also coordinating support from our NGO partners to provide virtual calls and care packs to the affected workers.
In addition to protecting their health and safety, these measures seek to assure our migrant workers that their livelihoods will be safeguarded. Affected workers will continue to be paid their salaries for the duration of the quarantine, and their period of absence from work will be treated as paid hospitalisation leave as part of workers' leave eligibility under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA).
MOM appreciates the contributions and the cooperation of our migrant workers, as we do our best to protect them by decisively managing potential clusters of infection from forming. Measures such as quarantine are not conducted for longer than necessitated by public health reasons. MOM seeks the cooperation of employers and dormitory operators to continue to remain vigilant, adhere strictly to SMMs in dormitories and worksites, and to send workers for RRT timely, so as to safeguard the lives and protect the livelihoods of our migrant workers.