Singapore’s migrant workers are suffering the brunt of the country’s coronavirus cases
Rubel, a 28-year-old migrant worker in Singapore, is afraid. The dormitory he and other foreign workers live in has been locked down, and nobody is allowed in or out as government officials scramble to contain the country’s novel coronavirus outbreak.
What’s going on in Singapore: In recent weeks, the Asian city-state has had a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections, with thousands of new cases linked to clusters in foreign worker dormitories. To control the spread, the government has attempted to isolate the dormitories, test workers and move symptomatic patients into quarantine facilities.
But those measures have left hundreds of thousands of workers trapped in their dormitories, living cheek by jowl in cramped conditions that make social distancing near impossible.
Singapore is home to about 1.4 million migrant workers who come largely from South and Southeast Asia. As housekeepers, domestic helpers, construction workers and manual laborers, these migrants are essential to keeping Singapore functioning — but are also some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable people in the city.
How that’s affecting migrant workers: Rubel, who goes only by one name, came to Singapore from Bangladesh six years ago to work in construction and earn money for his family. Now, with his health and safety at risk, he’s worried for those who depend on him.
“I’m scared of this coronavirus, because if I catch it I cannot take care of my family,” he said.
In the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore was praised for its response and apparent ability to suppress infections without resorting to extreme measures.
Then, in April, the number of cases exploded. Since March 17, Singapore’s total cases grew from 266 to 12,075, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Even as the number of new cases surged past 1,000 a day, only a dozen or so per day were Singapore citizens of permanent residents; the rest were all migrant workers.