Covid-19 Singapore: A ‘pandemic of inequality’ exposed - BBC News
Sep 17, 2020 2 mins, 14 secs

It's been weeks since he was last allowed out of the room he shares with 11 others.

But last month a new cluster developed at the dorm, and like thousands of migrant workers, he was ordered back into quarantine.

Once lauded for its containment of the virus, Singapore's success crumbled when the virus reached its many foreign worker dormitories, something activists say should have been seen coming a mile off.

Now months on, Singapore is reporting single figure daily cases in the local community.

In late March, migrant rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) warned that the "risk of a new cluster among this group remains undeniable".

Hundreds of new migrant worker cases were being discovered each day.

The statistics show the stark contrast between the high number of cases in the dorms and the number of cases in the community, which are so low they barely register in the graph below.

"Once the lockdown was in place, we were not allowed to come out of the room.

The turn of events forced many in Singapore to confront the living conditions of many of these migrant workers - the sudden attention, coupled with new hygiene measures, saw a surge of charitable collections, and many dorm operators working to improve conditions.

Another foreign worker sent similar pictures of his dorm being re-arranged, and said the number of beds had gone from 15 to eight.

"They say we should social distance, but to us, that's a joke you know," said Zakir.

"They ask us to keep clean but inside the soap dispenser there's no soap," said Zakir.

According to Dipa Swaminathan, the founder of migrant rights group Its Raining Raincoats, such conditions have long been the norm for many workers.

"I see some people from my dormitory, they call their family and say they cannot take the situation," said Zakir, who himself runs a charity for migrant workers.

"We can't send money because we can't go outside," said Zakir, who adds that some others have not been paid their usual salary.

Singapore has since pledged to further improve conditions for migrant workers - the government says that by the end of 2020, each resident will be giving a living space of at least 6sqm/person

The question now being asked is how the situation was allowed to get so bad in the dorms when, as Prof Dutta said, "many organisations already pointed to basic problems before the pandemic hit"

His greatest hope now he says, is to just be able to go back to work, and for things to improve for migrant workers in Singapore

For me, I have been here 17 years - it's like we are already part of Singapore," he said

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