In the midst of the COVID emergency, Singapore, along with South Korea and Taiwan, had been commended as one of the countries that had best coped with the epidemic, thanks to its health care system (at the top of the worldwide rankings for excellence in the field) and the prompt response of the authorities in the tasks of isolating cases, using tracking apps and organizing containment. But then, while South Korea and Taiwan continued to follow the “praiseworthy” trajectory, Singapore began to go further and further astray. First of all, its tracking system—something that has gained so much praise in Italy as well—was put into question.
Even the creators of the app communicated their doubts in this regard, stressing that the app by itself was not enough. Then, the great problem emerged of those who had been excluded from the security measures: namely, migrant workers. As Slate wrote in a recent article, Singapore now has the largest outbreak recorded in Southeast Asia.
Between its first case, detected on Jan. 23, and March 23, Singapore reported fewer than 510 known cases of COVID-19. The case number is now at almost 15,000. The issue of migrant workers has been given ample treatment in the Western media, because it is rather emblematic of the forms of exclusion that are certainly nothing new for Singapore, whose political system—only formally democratic—has for years been the prerogative of a single family, that of the “father” of the modern Singapore model, Lee Kwan Yew, combined with policies that give more importance to finance than to rights.
In particular, the media has underlined the state’s lack of willingness to take care of the migrant workers, piled up in dilapidated structures in which it is clearly very difficult to uphold the necessary regulations to avoid contagion: first of all, regarding social distancing. Even the New York Times shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, writing that “coronavirus cases linked to migrant worker dormitories accounted for 88 percent of Singapore’s 14,446 cases, including more than 1,400 new cases in a single day.”
Many of them, the Times article points out, “live in packed dormitories on the outskirts of the city. These dormitories can house up to 20 people per room, making it almost impossible to follow social distancing guidelines.”
The government has tried to deal with the problem with rather careless measures, ordering all workers “living in dormitories to stop working until May 4, imposing a stay-at-home order for 180,000 foreign workers in the construction sector. The government has also declared 25 dormitories as isolation areas, where workers are confined to their rooms.”
These measures have been criticized by the groups and associations of migrant workers, which are complaining about the little attention being paid to the issue which has now become the main cause of the spread of the epidemic in the country.