COVID-19 Op-ed

The Deadly Second Wave of Covid-19: The Paradox of a Cosmopolitan City-State

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Sophea TryStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

At the beginning of April, Singapore reported only about 1,000
Covid-19 cases. One month later, more than 20,000 cases have been detected,
thus putting this country in the first rank with the highest number of
confirmed cases in the region (Worldometers, 2020). The majority of cases
linked to work permit holders who are living among 43 dormitories across the
country.Control measures have been implemented such as an order for all
workers living in the dormitories to stop working and imposing a stay-at-home
order. About 300,000 foreign workers working in the low skill sectors,
including construction and other manufacturing sectors, have been put under
movement restrictions within their dormitory complex, where task forces have
been employed to monitor the situation (Ratcliffe, 2020).Recognizing that
foreign workers play a crucial role in the economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien
Loong, on 10 April, announced that the government would assure the health and
well-being of foreign workers in the country (Huaxia, 2020). However, the
government’s assurance is doubtful when Josephine Teo, Manpower Minister, in
her released statement mentioned that “Our priority is to protect
the livelihoods of Singaporeans. That remains so even as a new battlefront
emerged. Equally important now is to take care of our migrant workers’
health”
(MOM, 2020).This reflects that marginalized groups like
migrant workers may not be able to be included in the national policies of
the country, or at least these populations may not be in the top priorities.
Instead of providing supports directly to foreign workers, the Singaporean
government has provided levy waivers and rebated to employers, so that
employers can perform their obligations toward their foreign workers (MOM,
2020). This strategy shifts the responsibility of workers’ salaries and basic
needs during this pandemic to employers. While employers are also facing
economic hardship, they are likely to deduct the salaries, thus the
government should not assume that they will help foreign workers. Besides
this, the policies ensure that affected workers still receive their salaries
as a period of quarantine; however, it is unclear whether the salaries will
be deducted to pay for their food and other needs during the isolation. For
workers who live outside the quarantine dormitories, they are likely to fall
through the crack.In the past few months, Singapore has been recognized and
praised by many countries both regionally and globally for its efficiency in
controlling the infection through contact-tracing and containment measures.
The responses are taken by the government–while successfully containing the
spread among local people leave thousands of foreign workers and other
non-citizens behind. As a developed country with a high standard in the
health system, Singapore now faces the challenge of curbing the outbreak
among the community of foreign workers. The spark increase in Singapore is a
lesson for its neighboring countries that continuously host a high number of
migrant workers, for instance, Thailand and Malaysia.The virus does not
discriminate; neither should policies created to suppress Covid-19. The
government should take immediate action to prevent and minimize infection
numbers. Inevitably, the majority of low-paid migrants remain vulnerable to
infection due to their working and living condition. Instead of locking down
the compound, the government needs to provide better sanitation and limit the
number of workers staying together. Empty schools or buildings can be used as
isolation places for foreign workers. While preventive measures must be taken
into practice, there is an urgent need for inclusion of migrants in the
response and recovery efforts as well.There is an urgent need for inclusion
and non-discriminatory access for migrant workers into state services,
particularly for the public health service. The inclusive approach in the
health system would help to minimize the spread of the virus. The government
must ensure that the test could be reached and made available and accessible
to both citizens and non-citizens. At the same time, the government needs to
take steps to reduce the economic impact of the outbreak. It has to ensure
that employers who receive resettlement funds or loans comply are obliged to
provide support to migrant workers.The government can work together with NGOs
or community networks to monitor and mitigate risks associated with human
mobility in affected areas. Community engagement is crucial at this moment as
it could help migrant workers to adjust for community perceptions, beliefs,
and practice. The state needs to ensure that the official information, health
service information, and announcement of the policies can be reached to
workers in the way they understand.Community spreading as the new wave of the
virus could lead to the fear among workers themselves as well as the
discrimination and negative sentiment against these marginalized populations.
Before sympathy turns into anger among local people, the state shall include
everyone within the territory in its national prevention, response plans, and
interventions.References:

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