‘Just pray, very soon I can get well’: Migrant workers from dorms battle on

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Last week, he was panicking “only a little bit” while waiting out his quarantine in a dormitory room. But when Subramaniam Pugalandi became sick in the wee hours of Monday, he cried in fear.

The migrant worker just knew, even before any tests were done, that he had COVID-19.

As he was taken to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases to be tested, the resident of S11 Dormitory @ Punggol thought about his wife and four-year-old son. He felt that there was a “question mark” over his future.

But once warded, Pugal met his hospital roommate — a Bangladeshi worker who had been admitted just two days prior, and was ready to be moved to the community isolation facility at the Singapore Expo.

“He said, ‘Same virus-fever. Now I’m okay already’,” recounted Pugal. “I saw that his body temperature, everything, was okay. Then I believed in myself.”

The 35-year-old Indian national is now at the Singapore Expo too, with a cough and a slightly low potassium level, but no more fever, runny nose or body aches. And in the airy hall, he can finally walk around. “It looks like a luxury hotel. Everything’s okay,” he said. “It’s better than the hospital, and better than the quarantine room.”

Pugal first touched CNA Insider viewers’ hearts when he spoke of his worries during his time in quarantine, watching as his roommates fell sick.

For other affected workers that CNA Insider stayed in touch with, some things have changed — while others have not — since the first foreign worker dormitories were declared to be isolation areas nearly two weeks ago.

Amin Mohammad Al, a resident at S11 Dormitory, has seen two roommates test positive for the novel coronavirus, and another person was also moved out after showing symptoms.

But he said his room, which has six occupants now, has not been disinfected.

The rising number of confirmed cases in the dormitories has been a cause for concern, workers told CNA Insider. But they have tried to manage their emotions.“ If I worry too much, I can’t comfort my mother,” said Pangkil, who is at Sungei Tengah Lodge.

In the confines of his room, the residents have cooperated by, for example, maintaining a one-metre distance as best they can, he said. But this safe distancing is a problem when it comes to collecting their meals, lamented the Bangladeshi, who asked not to be identified by his real name.

“The security (personnel) give out the food at the staircase near the lift… They say one person can carry everything. But (from) some rooms, they come in twos, threes or fours also, making it a very big gathering,” he said.

“Even if I (observe) a safe distance, other men don’t… (Where) I stand, they also come near. Previously, (the food) was delivered to every room.”

As it has been all week, most of the 623 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday were foreign workers in dormitories. There are 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore housing 200,000 foreign workers.

Some 7,000 of them working in essential services have been moved out to sites like military camps and floating accommodations. The latest facilities to be activated as an alternative living area are some of the ActiveSG sport halls.

Meanwhile, some employers have been checking in on their workers via WhatsApp, and sending them messages of encouragement.

“Every day, they update me on their temperatures, so hopefully from there we’ll be able to see (who’s sick). But I know not everyone has the symptoms as well,” said Tabitha Lim, who is in human resources at Jerevin Industrial.

With testing in the dormitories stepped up, her company has seen seven of its workers — all from S11, which is Singapore’s biggest COVID-19 cluster — diagnosed with the COVID-19 as of Thursday.

“Even though the testing as well as the segregation has come a bit late, I’m quite grateful that our authorities stepped up to do something. It’s really a massive operation,” said Jerevin Industrial Managing Director Jeremiah Tan.