Singapore orders 13 out of 20 sites linked to Covid-19 resurgence at Sungei Tengah Lodge dorm to stop work

Sungei Tengah Lodge was announced to be a new cluster on Aug 22. - ST

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has ordered that work be stopped at 13 out of 20 worksites linked to a Covid-19 resurgence at Sungei Tengah Lodge dormitory.

This was after the workers at the sites were found to be Covid-19-positive when tested.

In an exclusive update on Monday (Aug 24) night, a spokesman for the BCA told The Straits Times: "A stop-work order is issued to the builder to rectify any shortcomings in safe management measures on site or introduce new measures to curb the risk of Covid-19 transmission."

The 13 affected sites are part of 20 construction projects that were issued a safety time-out notice on Sunday (Aug 23), which allows for the disinfection of affected areas and a review of onsite safe management measures.

The 20 worksites - where Covid-19 positive workers staying in Sungei Tengah Lodge have been working - consist mainly of commercial and infrastructure projects, said the BCA spokesman.

The Sungei Tengah Lodge, Singapore's largest foreign worker dormitory with 16,000 occupants, was announced last Saturday (Aug 22) to be a new cluster, after two new coronavirus cases were linked to the 55 previous ones there.

It was the first of two new dormitory clusters in almost two weeks since all foreign worker dormitories were declared to be clear of Covid-19.

On Sunday (Aug 23), a dormitory in Kaki Bukit was also announced as a cluster when a fresh Covid-19 case was linked to four previously confirmed cases at Homestay Lodge.

On Aug 11, the Ministry of Manpower had declared all dormitories to be clear of Covid-19, save for 17 standalone blocks which had served as quarantine facilities. Around a week later on Aug 19, the ministry reported that the blocks used for quarantine were cleared of Covid-19 as well.

In a joint statement on Sunday (Aug 23) night, MOH, MOM and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said: "The new cases detected in the cleared dormitories demonstrate the importance of ongoing surveillance and testing under rostered routine testing, as well as the need to remain vigilant and adhere to safe management measures."

Workers staying in dormitories are required to be swabbed for Covid-19 every 14 days.

In light of the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in previously cleared dormitories, health economist Phua Kai Hong asked about the efficacy of the testing procedure.

Dr Phua, who is adjunct senior research fellow with the Institute of Policy Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said: "This reflects on the trade-offs between the risks of infection control versus the approval to work by foreign workers. We have to screen with greater accuracy and public safety first before declaring the workers as fit to work, with different levels of certainty."

Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin noted that the recovery of the construction sector will be "sluggish and choppy".

"Projects may see starts and stops, as one Covid-19 case could trigger a quarantine for the whole dorm. Prioritising public health is important but will inevitably sacrifice some labour productivity and growth," he said. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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