Singapore moves migrant workers to floating accommodation amid rising COVID-19 transmissions

Floating accommodation in Tanjong Pagar Terminal. Credit: Khaw Boon Wan.

Singaporean officials are moving migrant workers from their dormitories to floating accommodation on vessels typically used by employees of the country’s offshore sector.

In order to find alternative accommodation for the healthy migrant workers, the government has shifted them to a place in the Tanjong Pagar Terminal.

Singapore’s transport minister, Khaw Boon Wan, wrote in a statement on 12 April 2020, “COVID-19 clusters in foreign workers’ dorms is a grave concern. In China, transmission within families has been shown to be a major driver. Each dorm is practically a huge family unit, hence our concern. We’re working to reduce the density within each dorm. This requires the creation of new dorms and new capacity so that workers can be re-accommodated.”

The number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections has surged in Singapore, with cases reaching nearly 3,000 as of 13 April 2020. Many of the new cases were transmissions among migrant workers who work on construction sites. The cramped living conditions in dormitories have been seen as the cause for the sudden rise in transmissions.

Building new accommodation will take time, hence re-purposing vacant buildings is a practical choice.

Khaw noted that floating accommodation commonly used in the marine and offshore industry can hold a few hundred occupants and can be suitably organised to achieve social distancing.

He said, “Meals can be prepared off site and delivered to the cabins to minimise inter-mingling. They [the accommodations] are suitable for foreign workers who are well and not working during this circuit breaker period. The public health measures on infection control and personal hygiene are worked out jointly with the Ministry of Health.”