CARE Covid19 Lecture Series- Lecture #3: Prejudice and Covid-19: National Similarities and Differences

CARE COVID 19 Lecture Series Lecture 3: Prejudice and Covid-19: National Similarities and Differences with

Prof. Stephen Croucher, Head – School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing, Massey University

Prejudice and Covid-19: National Similarities and Differences with Prof. Stephen Croucher, Head-School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing Massey University

The Covid-19 outbreak has brought increased incidents of racism, discrimination, and violence against varied minority groups: “Asians” in the United States and many European nations, “ultra Orthodox Jews” in Israel, “Jews” in the Palestinian state, and “foreigners” in some European nations. In the US for example, since January 2020, many Asian Americans have reported suffering racial slurs, wrongful workplace termination, being spat on, physical violence, extreme physical distancing, etc., as media and government officials increasingly stigmatise and blame Asians for the spread of Covid-19. Thus, using integrated threat theory (ITT) as a framework, this discussion explores how prejudice has manifested during the Covid-19 crisis with various minority groups being blamed for virus and its spread. In addition, the discussion will report on preliminary results of an ongoing multi-national study examining prejudice and Covid-19 in the US, Spain, Italy, and New Zealand.

About CARE COVID19 Lecture Series:
In this lecture series, we will cover the various aspects of health communication within the context of the COVID19 pandemic. From strategies of risk messaging, to community organizing, to systems of governance, to processes of structural transformation, we will explore the ways in which communication is constituted by the crisis and in turn, constitutes the crisis. Anchored in the key tenets of the culture-centered approach (CCA), the series will draw on lectures, conversations, and workshops with community organizers, activists, academics, and policy makers across the globe.
More info on CARE Website:
#CAREMassey #CARECovidLectureSeries #Prejudice#COVID19 #MasseyUni

CARE Covid19 Lecture Series Lecture#2: Building & sustaining equality with Prof. Mohan Dutta

Lecture#2: Solidarities among communities, activists, unions, movements and academics: Building & sustaining equality with Prof. Mohan Dutta, Director CARE

Facebook Livestream link – https//

What does the practical work of building infrastructures for communicative equality look like? COVID19 has made visible the entrenched inequalities across the globe that are systematically erased. Moreover, its trajectory as well as the interventions created to address it have further exacerbated inequalities within societies. In this backdrop, what does the ongoing work of building and sustaining communicative equality look like? This talk will outline the concept of solidarity as a framework for organizing relationships among academics, activists, unions, movements, and communities. It will argue that solidarity works as a de-centering anchor, one that destabilizes the hegemonic categories of knowledge production, instead placing the labour of theory work amidst the struggles for equality. Based on the various forms of activist interventions carried out by CARE, I will examine the various strategies for building and sustaining solidarities, focusing on the necessary work of transforming the academe amid COVID19.

About CARE COVID19 Lecture Series:
In this lecture series, we will cover the various aspects of health communication within the context of the COVID19 pandemic. From strategies of risk messaging, to community organizing, to systems of governance, to processes of structural transformation, we will explore the ways in which communication is constituted by the crisis and in turn, constitutes the crisis. Anchored in the key tenets of the culture-centered approach (CCA), the series will draw on lectures, conversations, and workshops with community organizers, activists, academics, and policy makers across the globe.
More info on CARE Website:
#CAREMassey #CARECovidLectureSeries #CommunicativeEquality #COVID19 #MasseyUni

Time Magazine says:’ Singapore Was a Coronavirus Success Story—Until an Outbreak Showed How Vulnerable Workers Can Fall Through the Cracks’

BY HILLARY LEUNG  APRIL 29, 2020 Article Source:

SINGAPORE – APRIL 18: Migrant workers can be seen in the Cochrane Lodge II, a purpose-built migrant workers dormitory that has been gazetted as an isolation area on April 18, 2020 in Singapore. (Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images)

Since mid-March, Asadul Alam Asif has watched nervously as Singapore reported more and more COVID-19 cases in migrant workers’ dormitories like the one where he lives.

The 28-year-old Bangladeshi technician counted himself lucky each day that nobody was infected in his housing block, where around 1,900 workers reside in cramped conditions that make social distancing impossible. To relieve congestion, Asif’s company rehoused some people, which left half of the 16 bunk-beds in his small room empty.

But then, one day last week, seven people in Asif’s dorm tested positive.

He received a text message instructing all residents on the fifth and sixth floors—including him—not to leave their rooms.

“All of us slept very late that night, like 1 or 2 a.m.,” he told TIME by phone. “We were all so worried.”

Asif is one of the more than 200,000 foreign workers living in Singapore’s dormitories, where often 10 to 20 men are packed into a single room. Built to house the workers who power the construction, cleaning and other key industries, these utilitarian complexes on the city-state’s periphery have become hives of infection, revealing a blind spot in Singapore’s previously vaunted coronavirus response.

As of April 28, these dorms were home to 85% of Singapore’s 14,951 cases.

Singapore Prime Ministers announcement: Singapore Extends Coronavirus Lockdown for Another Month

“The dormitories were like a time bomb waiting to explode,” Singapore lawyer Tommy Koh wrote in a widely circulated Facebook post earlier this month. “The way Singapore treats its foreign workers is not First World but Third World.”

As the coronavirus continues its insidious spread, Singapore’s outbreak suggests the danger of overlooking any population. Even when containment efforts appear to succeed in flattening the curve, keeping it that way remains a difficult, relentless endeavor.

“If we forget marginalized communities, if we forget the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated… we are going to continue to see outbreaks,” says Gavin Yamey, Associate Director for Policy at the Duke Global Health Institute. “This will continue to fuel our epidemic.”

A healthcare worker dressed in personal protective equipment collects a nasal swab sample from a migrant worker for testing for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus at a foreign workers’ domitory in Singapore on April 27, 2020. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Essential workers

The world’s estimated 164 million migrant laborers are particularly vulnerable both to the disease and to its economic fallout. Their risk of infection is compounded by factors like overcrowded living quarters, hazardous working conditions, low pay and often limited access to social protections.

“Migrants are likely to be the hardest hit,” says Cristina Rapone, a rural employment and migration specialist at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

For undocumented workers, the threat of the virus is even higher. “They might not seek healthcare because they may risk being deported,” Rapone says.

In the Gulf, a wealthy region dependent upon blue collar labor from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, the virus has also ripped through migrant worker housing. Figures from Kuwait, the U.A.E. and Bahrain suggest the majority of cases have been among foreigners, many of whom live in unsanitary work camps, the Guardian reports.

Migrant workers with insecure, informal or seasonal jobs also tend to be among the first to be let go in a crisis. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hastily announced an impending nationwide lockdown in March, hundreds of thousands of internal migrant workers suddenly found themselves unemployed and homeless, forced to flee the cities en masse. The arduous journeys back to their villages—some reportedly walking as much as 500 miles—were made worse by the stigma of being seen as both patients and carriers of the virus.

Indian migrant workers from the Indian state of Maharashtra walk along a National Highway 44 to reach their hometowns during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus on the outskirts of Hyderabad on April (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)

“There is increasing risk that migrants returning to rural areas face discrimination and stigmatization, because they are said to be carrying or spreading the virus,” says Rapone. FAO staff in Asia and Latin America have reported such cases, she adds.

Yet the spread of the coronavirus has also revealed just how much of the “essential work” depends on migrants, from the medical sector to deliveries to the global food supply.

In the U.S., about half of the farm workers are undocumented immigrants, according to the Department of Agriculture. Classified as essential workers, they continue to toil in fields, orchards and packing plants across the nation, even as much of the economy is shut down. Limited access to healthcare, cramped living and working conditions, and even a reported lack of soap on some farms can put them at high risk of contracting the virus.

“Globally, we’re very dependent on migrants to fill up jobs that are absolutely essential to sustain our economies,” says Mohan Dutta, a professor who studies the intersection of poverty and health at Massey University in New Zealand. He adds that health authorities need to do more to protect them.

A ‘hidden backbone’

Singapore’s outbreak highlights what can happen if some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable people in society go unnoticed during the health crisis. After reporting single-digit daily caseloads in February, the island nation of 5.6 million now has the highest number of reported COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia.

This month, cases began surging past 1,000 per day, and almost all the patients were migrant workers.

“The government was really focused on fighting COVID-19 on two battlefronts: community transmission and imported cases,” says Jeremy Lim, co-director of global health at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. “But it overlooked the vulnerabilities of this third front that’s now glaringly obvious to everyone.”

Singapore’s 1.4 million foreign workers make up about one-third of the country’s total workforce, according to government figures. Most of the low-wage workers are from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and other countries.

Advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) calls them the “hidden backbone” of Singapore society.

“Everything you see as development, [like] the building sector, the marine sector—all this depends very, very much on migrant workers,” says Christine Pelly, an Executive Committee member of TWC2. “Their contribution permeates throughout society in a very necessary and essential way.”

Migrant workers, Dutta adds, are an invisible community in Singapore. Their dormitories are located on the outskirts of the city and on their rest days, they congregate in districts like Little India and Chinatown, where ethnic food shops and money remittances are located. Due to fear of losing their jobs, many do not complain about their living and working conditions.

“Not only are they unseen, but their voices are also unheard,” says Dutta.

A migrant worker wearing protective face mask has his temperature checked by a security guard before leaving a factory-converted dormitory on April 17, 2020 in Singapore. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 140,000 lives and infecting more than 2 million people. (Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images)

TWC2 says it has spent years trying to call the government’s attention to the cramped and dirty dormitory conditions that now pose a grave public health threat. Government regulations stipulate that each occupant be allotted 4.5 square meters (about 48 square feet) of living space, meaning that rooms for 20 people can be as small as 960 square feet, while facilities like bathrooms, kitchens and common rooms are shared.

Some dorms now have hundreds of cases. One of them, the sprawling S11 complex, has over 2,200. Nizam, a 28-year-old Bangladeshi, moved out of S11 after his roommate tested positive earlier this month. He was transferred to a quarantine center.

“One hundred and seventy people share [a] common washroom, kitchen and the room where we eat,” the construction worker says. “Everything is shared. That’s why the virus is spreading like that.”

Besides the dormitories, rights groups have also sounded the alarm on the trucks that ferry migrants to and from work in the gleaming city center. Workers, usually about a dozen or more, are typically packed shoulder to shoulder in the open backs of lorries.

Pivoting strategies

Singapore is scrambling to neutralize the ballooning crisis by locking down the dorms and trying to space out residents.

“This is Singapore’s largest humanitarian public health crisis ever. So the logistics of moving thousands of people, feeding and separating them is not at all straightforward,” says Lim, who also volunteers to help migrant workers.

Around 10,000 workers have been moved out of their dormitories and into vacant housing blocks and military camps. Medical personnel have been stationed at dorms to carry out “aggressive testing,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an April 21 address.

Dormitory residents have been instructed to stop working. The government has said employers must continue to pay their migrant workers during that period, and that testing and treatment will be free.

While workers are being provided three meals a day and free wifi, they are completely dependent on handouts. Workers TIME spoke with say they have not been allowed to leave their dorms, not even to buy groceries or other necessities.

Their treatment also contrasts with the four and five-star hotels that the government has paid to house Singaporeans returning from overseas, fueling criticism of further inequities.

A warning from Singapore

As migrant workers endure the brunt of Singapore’s outbreak, observers say the situation should serve as a reminder for other countries to pay attention to vulnerable residents, especially those for whom social distancing is a luxury.

“They need to be spread out, but they also need to have access to basic infrastructures like ventilation, clean toilets, adequate supply of water, adequate cleaning supplies,” says Dutta, the New Zealand professor.

Seeking to blunt the economic repercussions of the pandemic, many countries are now rushing to restart their economies. Several states in the U.S. have started reopening this week, while in Germany and France schools and businesses are making plans to resume.

But Dutta cautioned against loosening restrictions before ensuring vulnerable groups have access to basic sanitation and decent accommodation. Infections among marginalized communities, if not properly contained, could increase the risk for the entire population, he warns.

“Inequalities are the breeding grounds for pandemics,” he says. “Countries absolutely have to learn [from Singapore] before it’s too late.”

Article & Image Source:

CARE Covid19 Lecture Series-Lecture #1 : Communicative Equality & Covid19

CARE COVID 19 Lecture Series Lecture 1 : Communicative Equality and COVID 19 with Prof. Mohan Dutta

Live Stream link-

The first lecture of the series, delivered by Dean’s Chair Professor and Director of CARE Mohan J. Dutta, will examine one of the key concepts of the culture-centered approach, communicative equality. We will explore the ways in which communicative equality plays out amidst COVID19, materializing the fault lines of the pandemic and offering radically transformative anchors for re-organizing human health and wellbeing.

About CARE COVID19 Lecture Series:
In this lecture series, we will cover the various aspects of health communication within the context of the COVID19 pandemic. From strategies of risk messaging, to community organizing, to systems of governance, to processes of structural transformation, we will explore the ways in which communication is constituted by the crisis and in turn, constitutes the crisis. Anchored in the key tenets of the culture-centered approach (CCA), the series will draw on lectures, conversations, and workshops with community organizers, activists, academics, and policy makers across the globe.
More info on CAREMassey Facebook:

Press Release: CARE AND HOME: New Study On Covid 19 Behaviours Reveals Systemic Challenges Low Facing Wage Migrant Workers Exprience

The Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) at Massey University is partnering with the migrant rights NGO Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) to jointly release the second white paper on the health of low-wage migrant workers in Singapore to understand the realities of the affected workers better. The study was conducted by CARE and draws on 101 usable survey responses. The white paper outlines the specific challenges experienced by the migrant workers in staying safe, such as practising responsible social distancing, and offers recommendations for solutions.  Please click the link for the joint release statement. The white paper is available below.

CARE News: Researchers reveal COVID-19 concern for Singapore’s migrant workers

Article Source: Massey News

Researchers from the Centre for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) have uncovered Singapore’s large migrant community is experiencing clusters of COVID-19, due to cramped migrant worker dormitories.

An image of a worker from CARE’s migrant worker project in Singapore. Copyright CARE.

Professor Mohan Dutta has been conducting a digital ethnography (participant observations and informal interviews) in Bengali and English, supported by in-depth interviews with low-wage migrant workers. His research has found, although the dormitories are now in lockdown, the workers are unable to maintain physical distancing because of the cramped living conditions, leading to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Professor Dutta, who has been interviewed by The Guardian and the South China Morning Post about the issue, says the workers expressed anxiety about the rapid pace with which the outbreak was unfolding in their dormitories. Singapore’s Ministry of Health reported 1111 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, making a total of 9125, with the migrant worker dormitories emerging as the epicentres of the outbreak. Some 1050 of the 1111 new cases reported on Tuesday were among work permit holders residing in dormitories.

“My earlier work conducted with Singapore’s low-wage migrant workers highlighted the poor living conditions and food insecurity they experienced. These conditions, alongside the lack of worker rights and the absence of spaces for workers to voice their demands, are breeding grounds for the pandemic,” he says.

Singapore has 200,000 workers who live in 43 dormitories across the country, the largest of which holds 24,000 men. The dormitories have been declared isolation units by officials, making them more crowded than usual as only essential workers may leave. 

One participant in the study noted they were unable to keep a one-metre distance from one another as their room has 20 people living in it. Another worker said, “They are saying you need to do those things, washing hands and not go outside together. There’s no point when there are so many workers in a room.”

 The CARE research team is currently conducting a follow-up quantitative study exploring everyday experiences of health and wellbeing among low-wage migrant workers. The initial findings of this study, conducted with 100 low-wage migrant workers, further crystallise the qualitative findings regarding overcrowding, poor toilet facilities and lack of water. The study also reveals overarching feelings of fear and depression among the workers.

An image of workers from CARE’s migrant worker project in Singapore. Copyright CARE.

CARE is a research centre that uses participatory and culture-centred methodologies to develop community-driven com­munication solutions, and has been responding to COVID-19 through its community advisory groups, community workshops, and community researchers.

“The communities we have been working in have been creatively developing a wide range of interventions, community-based resources for support, community-driven advocacy and activist solutions addressing the political and economic challenges foregrounded by COVID-19,” Professor Dutta says.

CARE is also working with 27 communities in rural West Bengal to develop self-organised networks of mutual care. The community advisory group networks have identified the most in-need households in the communities, and have developed culturally-centred food packages (rice, potatoes and daal, considered staple food in this part of India) to be delivered to the most at-need households. The centre is also responding to the distribution of fake news circulated over digital platforms, with community advisory groups working with community researchers to debunk disinformation.

In New Zealand, CARE has developed a network of community support in Highbury, Palmerston North, to address the needs of community members at the “margins of the margins”. It has identified the most in-need households in the communities and developed culturally-centred food packages to meet community needs. The advisory group meets digitally to develop strategies and solutions.

CARE also created the Manawatū Health Information Hub to provide information and raise key information gaps in the community. The information gaps uncovered so far include the availability of testing, financial support and pricing, and have shaped CARE white papers, contributing to its advocacy work. Currently, CARE is collaborating with the Health Hub Project New Zealand to develop a culture-centred, community-grounded framework for community testing.

CARE White Paper Issue 8: Structural constraints, voice infrastructures, and mental health among low-wage migrant workers in Singapore: Solutions for addressing COVID19

Structural constraints, voice infrastructures, and mental health among low-wage migrant workers in Singapore: Solutions for addressing COVID19

Mohan J. Dutta Director, Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research & Evaluation, Massey University

Responding to the continued rise in COVID19 clusters in migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, and building on earlier research (See CARE White paper Issue 6), this White Paper reports on the findings of a survey conducted with low-wage migrant workers in Singapore. In addition to the poor living conditions highlighted earlier, the structural constraints on preventive behavior are explored. Drawing on the key tenets of the culture-centered approach, the research highlights the powerful role of structural factors such as arrangements of dormitories, the absence of hygienic conditions because of the structures, the lack of clean toilets, pressure on limited toilets, and scarcity of water. The findings highlight the challenges to mental health and wellbeing experienced by the workers. Moreover, it points to the absence of voice infrastructures, and the ways in which this absence contributes to conditions that are rife for the pandemic. Solutions for structural solutions and voice democracy are offered.

CARE NEWS: Singapore’s cramped migrant worker dorms hide Covid-19 surge risk says The Guardian

City-state has been lauded for its comprehensive measures but officials have been accused of overlooking key group

 Foreign workers wearing protective masks queue for free meals in Singapore Photograph: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Singapore, praised for its gold standard approach to tracing coronavirus cases, is facing a surge in transmission linked to its cramped migrant workers’ dormitories, where thousands more infections are expected to emerge.

The health ministry reported 728 new cases on Thursday, the biggest rise in a single day, as medical teams raced to test and isolate workers living in vast dormitory blocks.

While Singapore has been lauded for its rapid and comprehensive approach to contract tracing, officials have been accused of overlooking the dormitories, where thousands of workers live in close quarters and between 12 and 20 men might share a single room.

In March the campaign group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) urged officials to make plans to protect workers, warning: “The risk of a new cluster among this group remains undeniable.” Authorities are resorting to moving men to multi-storey car parks, military camps and floating hotels in an attempt to reduce crowding.

Mohan Dutta, a professor at Massey University in New Zealand, who has interviewed 45 migrant workers in Singapore since the outbreak began, said many feared an outbreak was inevitable due to the conditions.

“Participants told me that even up until Monday they don’t have access to soap and adequate cleaning supplies,” he said. While migrants were being served food so that they did not use shared kitchens, the quality of meals was poor and lacking in nutrition. In some cases 100 men were sharing five toilets and five showers.

Nine dormitories, the biggest of which holds 24,000 men, have been declared isolation units by officials, while all other buildings accommodating the city-state’s 300,000 workers have been placed under effective lockdown. The restrictions, an attempt to reduce further transmission, have left the dormitories even more crowded than usual as only essential workers are permitted to leave.

One construction worker, from Bangladesh, told the Guardian there were long queues to use shared bathrooms which often did not have enough water for the showers or toilets to function.

No one in his dormitory had yet tested positive, he said, but some people had temperatures of 38C. “In my room and other rooms also there are many [with] symptoms, some feel [they have] no energy, someone has body aches,” he said. “We are frightened.”

Foreign workers are seen outside their dormitory rooms at Cochrane Lodge II in Singapore Photograph: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

The government said it had increased cleaning services in the dormitories, which are usually privately operated, and was providing meals to workers and moving people to alternative accommodation.Advertisement

Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant in infectious diseases at Singapore’s National University Hospital, said medical teams had moved from hospitals to test people on site quickly. “If we don’t stop it there the hospitals will get overwhelmed.”

It was likely that thousands more cases would be discovered, Fisher said. “[The men] are all 30 to 40 years old, which is good, but still when you’re dealing with these massive numbers you’re going to get a good number of sick 30 to 40-year-olds.

“The risk [relating to migrant worker dormitories] is completely different and the preparation and the anticipation wasn’t there.

“The message to other places is, if you have an overcrowded setting it is just so vulnerable,” Fisher said, pointing to slum areas in countries such as India. “When people say India’s shutdown has been extended – I can’t think of anything other than shutting down. It’s like the only defence you’ve got.”

The second wave of cases in Singapore has brought the total number of infections to 4,427 including 10 deaths. Fisher said he was not aware of any fatalities among migrant worker clusters but these typically were not recorded until a later date.

Singapore’s migrant workers, who are largely from India and Bangladesh, are an essential part of the work force. Many toil for long hours on the country’s construction sites, building its skyscrapers and shopping malls, so that they can send money to relatives back home.

It is not uncommon for workers, who have temporary contracts and are dependent upon their employers for work permits, to be paid less than promised. Workers might be promised as much as S$1,200 per month, but typically receive anything between S$500-750, according to Dutta. The workers pay large sums in agency fees to work in Singapore and are often reluctant to complain for fear of being deported.

Workers’ dormitories are on the outskirts of the city-state, which, Dutta said, “makes them in many ways invisible to the landscape of Singapore”.

Article Source

CARE White Paper Issue 7: April 2020- Culture-centered community-led testing

Culture-centered community-led testing

by Gayle Moana – Johnson, CARE – Community Research Assistant and Mohan J. Dutta, Director,Center for Culture – centered Approach to Research & Evaluation Massey University

In this white paper, the community advisory group in Highbury, working with community researcher Gayle Moana-Johnson, developed the key conceptual guidelines for culture-centered community-grounded testing. The white paper highlights the key concepts anchoring the partnership between the community advisory group and the clinical team at HHPNZ

This white paper outlines the key principles of culture-centered community-led testing that are voiced by the advisory group of community members in Highbury, anchored in the principle of representing the most “in-need” members of the community (referred in the rest of this white paper as the “margins of the margins”). The key ideas in this white paper are developed as anchoring principles for the partnership between the community advisory group and the Health Hub Project New Zealand (HHPNZ).

CARE White Paper Research News – Coronavirus: Singapore migrant worker dormitories still hot topic as Covid-19 cases rise

A migrant worker looks out from a window of his Singapore dormitory. Photo: AFP

Published: 14 April 2020 by Kok Xinghui and Bhavan Jaipragas,
South China Morning Post

  • The island nation’s authorities have corrected course after appearing to be caught off guard by the logistical scale of quarantining nearly 200,000 workers
  • But their living conditions, care and the quality of food provided have remained controversial points of discussion

Singapore’s army of migrant workers remains in sharp focus amid expectations that a surge in Covid-19 infections in the tightly packed mega-dormitories that house them will continue in the short term, even as locally transmitted cases among the rest of the island state’s population show signs of easing.

The health ministry on Monday night announced 386 new confirmed infections – the highest daily surge so far. 280 of the new cases were foreign workers. With the latest increase, some 40 per cent of the country’s current total of 2,918 cases are work permit holders employed in low-wage jobs shunned by locals, such as construction.

Authorities have rapidly corrected course after appearing early last week to be caught off guard by the scale of logistical work required for them to quarantine the nearly 200,000 workers who live in 43 dormitories across the country.

Even so, accounts from activists as well as a prominent migrant rights researcher who conducted online interviews with dozens of the quarantined workers suggest improvements are needed to help them get through the isolation period.

Singapore migrant workers under quarantine as coronavirus hits dormitories

All dormitory residents are currently barred from leaving their accommodation, while the residents of eight of these dormitories cannot leave their rooms amid tighter restrictions owing to community transmission in their buildings.

In the latest move, Singaporean officials are gearing up to move some healthy workers from their dormitories to floating accommodation on vessels typically used by employees of the country’s marine and offshore sector.

The government has also announced plans to house some of these healthy workers in empty public housing flats, military camps, and multistorey car parks and void decks in public housing estates currently under construction. Military personnel, including doctors and logistics staff, have been deployed to the dormitories.

A view of the S11@Punggol foreign worker dormitory in Singapore. Photo: EPA

National development minister Lawrence Wong, the co-chair of the country’s Covid-19 ministerial task force, in a Facebook post on Sunday said community transmission in the country as a whole was moderating. Singapore is under a month-long partial lockdown described by the government as a “circuit breaker”.

But “the number of work-permit and dormitory-related cases has increased sharply, and this is likely to continue going up, especially as we undertake more aggressive testing of workers at the dormitories”, he wrote.

“As I had shared earlier, we have a comprehensive strategy to take care of our foreign workers and contain the virus in the dorms. This will take some time, but we are going all out to tackle this.”

Jeremy Lim, an adjunct associate professor with the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the latest data showed the contrasting situations of local residents and foreign workers.

“The government was focused on the Singapore population and left the worker measures to the dormitory operators and employers. This, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, was insufficient; the [dormitory] operators and employers couldn’t cope and hence the challenges faced now,” said Lim, who also chairs the medical services committee at HealthServe, a non-profit organisation offering health services to migrant workers.

The living conditions of workers in the dormitories – a subject of heated debate last week – remains a national talking point. The Ministry of Manpower came under fire last week after reports of some of the dormitories’ filthy conditions, which were exacerbated by the quarantine as all residents were indoors throughout the day.

Some workers – many of whom cook their own meals despite their long hours – also complained about the quality of food catered for them.

Since then, cleaning has been considerably stepped up, according to media releases by the ministry. It also released video interviews of the workers saying conditions were better, while photos circulating online of the workers’ meals also showed a marked improvement.

This Week in Asia understands there are special plans to give the workers a festive cheer on Tuesday to mark the Tamil New Year and the Bengali New Year.

A migrant worker is attended to by personnel from Singapore’s Academy of Medicine. Photo: Reuters

Still, the lockdown conditions are causing a strain on the workers, going by a study by Mohan Dutta, a New Zealand-based professor who has conducted extensive research on Singapore’s migrant workers.

In a white paper published on Monday, Dutta released findings from 45 hours of digital ethnography – or interviews – conducted with the workers online. The 43 interviews in a mixture of Bengali and English were conducted between April 7 and Monday.

Dutta wrote that “multiple participants refer to feelings of depression when discussing their living arrangements”.

Participants also disputed the reported improvement in the quality of food. Some said the price of the catered food was now S$140 (US$99) per month – S$20 (US$14) more than usual – and described the poor fare as “cruelty”.

“Moreover, our advisory group members note that in spite of the media attention to food and the stories about improvement in the quality of food, they are continuing to be served poor quality food,” the University of Massey professor wrote.

Activist Kokila Annamalai, writing on Facebook on Monday, said “despite some improvements, we’re a long way off from doing enough for migrant workers as Covid-19 cases mount in the community”. Based on conversations with workers and rights groups, she flagged several concerns including fears about mass lay-offs; non-payment or arrears of wages; and difficulty in obtaining medical attention for non-coronavirus ailments.

Local migrant worker advocacy group TWC2 has compared the workers’ situation to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, on which 3,711 passengers and crew were quarantined and more than 700 people eventually infected with Covid-19.

“When social distancing in dorm rooms with 12-20 men per room is effectively impossible, should one worker in a room be infected – and he could be asymptomatic – the repeated contact he has with his roommates because of confinement would heighten the risk to his roommates. The infection rate in the dorm could increase dramatically,” the group said.

Luke Tan, the case work manager for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said workers who lived in “converted industrial dorms or unlicensed dorms” might be falling under the radar when it came to testing for Covid-19, the availability of protective gear as well as food and salary payments.

“We know sooner or later the authorities will reach them but would it be too late?” he said.

The Ministry of Manpower in a statement on Monday said it had inspected over 600 factory-converted dormitories over the past three days, with minor lapses found in 57 locations.

Elsewhere, an op-ed piece in local Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao about the workers’ current circumstances drew sharp reactions, with the writer questioning whether workers cleaned kitchens and toilets themselves or if they relied on cleaners.

“If personal hygiene habits don’t improve, sanitation standards will not change no matter where they go,” wrote the writer, adding that the government had already done a good job.

Police officers enter the gate of a dormitory compound for foreign workers placed under quarantine to battle the spread of Covid-19. Photo: AFP

Reacting to a Facebook post translating the article, several people voiced their disappointment at that viewpoint, decrying it as “classist”. TWC2 had earlier said that structural constraints such as design of space, density, and the work hours of the workers played a part in the dormitories’ cleanliness. “It’s no use pontificating from a middle-class distance,” the non-profit said.

The embassies of countries with large numbers of workers in Singapore are offering assistance to their respective citizens. A large proportion of the city state’s 981,000 work permit holders are drawn from China, Bangladesh and India.The Chinese embassy in a statement on Saturday said it was “putting the health of Chinese workers living in the foreign worker dormitories as a priority”, adding that it was delivering essential supplies including some 20,000 masks to 1,800 of its nationals.

The High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Singapore, Md. Mustafizur Rahman, in a video address to his country’s nationals working in Singapore, offered reassurances about salary payment, medical benefits and the provision of meals during the quarantine period.

“You should obey all the health measures instructed by the Singapore government, it will be good for you and all of us,” he said.

Additional reporting by Dewey Sim

Article Link: Coronavirus: Singapore migrant worker dormitories still hot topic as Covid-19 cases rise