Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): I have one supplementary question for the Minister. Minister spoke about the pilot, which saw an increase in numbers from 500 to 3,000. Can the Minister share with the House what were the considerations that determined that number 3,000? Why not 2,000 or 4,000, because that will give the public and those who are looking at this issue more closely some ideas as to when further opening can potentially take place or, at the very least, when certain foreign workers who may need a little bit more assistance can be attended to by the relevant agencies and individuals?
Dr Tan See Leng: I thank Mr Pritam Singh for his question. The question of easing the restrictions for our migrant workers to go out into the community is constantly on our minds, not just all of us in MOM, particularly the ACE Group. They are also at the back of — well, not at the back of our minds, but on an almost daily basis, we contemplate. We planned for the easing of the restrictions as early as December last year; this was about a month after we formed the DAWN task force.
At different times when we planned, with the drawer plans that we have in place, each time, we were hit by different curve balls. You would have read about the Delta variant. At any particular point in time where we try to ramp up, easing the restrictions, there were new and significant turns of events that did not allow us to do so. We then focused on the singular approach of ensuring that all of our migrant workers are protected through vaccination. The vaccination centres were set up and our focus was really making sure that we protect them.
When we were able to bring them up to a high level of vaccination within the dorms, again, we tried to work on a mechanism for easing. In my earlier interview with The Straits Times and with the media, I said, “The key thing was finding a safe and a very calibrated manner”. And I think that there were obviously subsequent events that have overtaken us. In spite of that, once we have achieved that high level of vaccination, and we also had enough evidence to show that those of us who have received and completed the two doses of the vaccination, the incidence of complications was significantly less than for those who are unvaccinated. With that, we took on that pilot in mid-September to allow 500 to go out.
We also sought feedback through our survey with the migrant workers to ask them what would be important for them when they go out to visit these community areas. Many of them wanted to go to a religious place of worship. So, our ACE Group then engaged the Hindu temples, the mosques, as well as churches to see how we could accommodate them to let them fulfil their religious needs. We also worked with the shopkeepers and so on. We identified shopkeepers, the retail shops to make sure that social distancing was adequately maintained. We reached out to the churches, the temples, the mosques to get them to support us and we started that pilot visit.
We also had to ensure, as we move towards endemicity, at some point, we were concerned about, given the space that they are living in, to ensure that the infection, if it comes into the dorm, it does not spread. So, we took all the necessary precautions in terms of pre-event testing before they left. And after coming back, we also tested them.
When we were able to ascertain that the entire visit was safe, that we were able to adequately address the physical, mental and social needs; on top of that, keep them medically well-protected, we then ramped up from 500, increasing it sixfold to 3,000. And we also increased the areas.
At each step of the way, there were quite a fair bit of logistical arrangements that we had to make, including arranging for the buses to bring them there; also making sure that the itinerary, the programmes planned for them were adequate. In the beginning, we even had to nudge employers, because even though we opened up 500 a week, we found that, for a while, we were only getting about 50% to 60% of them coming on board. There were also migrant workers who signed up, only to cancel at the last minute. So, these are all the logistical issues and so on that we had to plan through. Once we were able to smoothen out all of these different gaps and so on, we then moved on to increasing the number to 3,000.
The plan, hopefully, in the ensuing weeks and months ahead, is that as we move to this new normal, is not to restrict but to open up even more. At this particular point in time, because we had just started the 3,000 last weekend, just about three days ago, we will maintain and watch it for a while. I hope that answers the questions.
Ministry of Manpower
2 November 2021