Overtaking Indonesia and Malaysia, Singapore just posted 596 new cases to be the coronavirus epicenter of South East Asia.
The island country with the size 4% of Malaysia Johor state, has now 6,588 cases. In comparison, Australia only has 6,606 confirmed cases, while a similar population nation like New Zealand has only 1,431 cases.
What went wrong?
Migrant workers, among the country’s poorest and most ignored, form the bulk of the daily surge. The elitist million dollar Singapore government, notorious for its severe inequality, has been oblivious to the third world living standards of these foreign workers for decades.
The foreign workers, most of them from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and China, live in overcrowded quarters with each room shared by 8 to 12 persons. Profit-oriented dormitories, owned by grassroots members of the ruling party government, cut down on amenities and sanitation leaving the residents in unhygienic living conditions. Litter-strewn corridors, over-piled trash bins and long queues for toilets is the everyday in these Singapore dormitories.
The foreign workers in Singapore are also mostly unskilled workers with little education and knowledge about protecting themselves from the airborne virus. Many are confused about the patchy government directions issued each day, and most still do not practice social distancing or wear a mask.
The Singapore government was forced to intervene only after over 100 foreign workers were found to be infected in a single cluster. The government improved the living conditions in 23 of 43 dormitories that have reported infections, while the remaining ones continue to be hell holes. Foreign workers who do not live in dormitories are in similar plight and they are spreading the virus in the local community.
Singapore went into lockdown officially on April 7, but 13 days later, the number of confirmed cases continued to surge. The Singapore officials tried to push the blame to foreign workers, after exhausting the same excuse on imported cases.
The Ministry of Health also published fake news claiming that all foreign workers infected are contained within their community of dormitory and construction work site. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even called his “circuit breaker” measures a success after the health ministry presented skewed data, by excluding foreign worker infections from the definition of local infection.
The dictatorship targeted to lift its lockdown measures by May 4, fearing that an extension would deal further irreparable damage to its economy. Many trading partners like China, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea are reporting low daily cases and considering a partial opening of borders. Singapore will likely be left out if its numbers still show no sign of improvement.