Number of Covid-19 cases in dorms should fall as testing continues: Lawrence Wong

All dormitories had earlier been cleared of Covid-19 by Aug 20, but since then, new cases have been reported on a daily basis.
All dormitories had earlier been cleared of Covid-19 by Aug 20, but since then, new cases have been reported on a daily basis.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The number of cases in the dormitories should continue to fall as workers undergo multiple cycles of tests, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said at a virtual press conference on Wednesday (Sept 23).

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, was responding to a question on whether it would be possible to see zero cases among foreign workers soon.

The Ministry of Manpower had earlier declared all dormitories clear of Covid-19 on Aug 20.

But since then, new cases have been reported in the dormitories on a daily basis, usually numbering in the double digits.

Acknowledging this, Mr Wong said on Wednesday: "We started by doing a complete clearance of all the dormitories and the workers... but as we highlighted and shared before, despite doing it as comprehensively as we can, no test can be foolproof.

"Even the best test is not a hundred per cent sensitive. So there will be a very, very low level of ongoing transmission."

He added that one way to manage this transmission is by ensuring that safe management measures are practised at dormitories and work sites.

Besides that, a "very extensive" regime of regular and routine testing of the workers will also help pick up positive cases, said Mr Wong.

This was done here earlier during the pandemic with essential workers who were moved out of dormitories to live in temporary housing.

 
 

Mr Wong said: "In order to ensure everyone's safety, we tested them one time, but then we put them through a second test, a third test. And even in the second and third cycles for that group of workers... we continued to pick up positive cases."

He noted that workers in the dormitories are now in a similar position, but that as more cycles of testing are completed, the number of new cases should fall steadily.

"So we are working on all fronts, and we hope to see the numbers continue to decline," he added.

But Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the task force with Mr Wong, said that just because no cases are detected in the dormitories or the community does not mean that there are no Covid-19 cases in Singapore as there could still be undetected or asymptomatic cases lurking.

 
 
 

Even the rostered routine testing (RRT) that workers go through is not foolproof, as it takes place on a 14-day cycle, and workers may get infected in-between tests and not be picked up until their next RRT, said Mr Gan.

This is why the frequency of RRT is being increased for certain high-risk groups. For instance, in Toh Guan dormitory, a pilot programme will see workers tested once a week, instead of once every 14 days. But even then the numbers may not drop to zero, he added.

"There's no possibility of zero cases in the whole of Singapore until we have the vaccine available... Even if we one day see zero cases in the dormitories and zero cases in the community, we cannot afford to celebrate because the day after that it may not be zero," he said, stressing the need for continued vigilance.