Tens of thousands of migrant workers in Singapore are now under quarantine in their dormitories after a rise in coronavirus infections as concern grows that the cramped quarters may become a hotspot for greater outbreaks.
Singapore's Ministry of Health said Sunday in a press release that transmissions of COVID-19 in foreign worker dormitories have "continued to rise," leading to the new orders to quarantine nearly 20,000 migrant workers.
"This would keep the workers safe, as well as protect the wider community from widespread transmission from these clusters," the ministry said.
Health officials said they have designated two foreign dormitories as isolation areas, which means the thousands of workers living on both sites will not be able to leave their rooms for 14 days.
One of the dormitories has some 13,000 workers while the other has some 6,800 workers inside. Combined, the two dormitories have so far seen over 90 cases of COVID-19 infections.
"Dormitory operators and workers living in dormitories are reminded of the importance of maintaining high standards of hygiene and cleanliness to safeguard their own health and those of others who are living in the same space," the ministry said. "Safe distancing measures must be strictly adhered to."
Workers under quarantine will continue to be paid salaries, the ministry said. It is also working with all dormitory operators in Singapore to reduce the density of their residents by transferring some workers to alternative accommodation during this period.
But those who live in the site and other rights groups questioned if the move was discriminatory against migrant workers and risks spreading the virus in an area with close quarters.
At least six workers told the Straits Times the rooms in the dormitories are infested with cockroaches and toilets are overflowing.
Amnesty International told the news agency that Singapore's latest measure was "a recipe for disaster."
“As it stands, the quarantine at these dormitories may be discriminatory and amount to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” Amnesty's Singapore researcher, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, told Reuters.
The move to quarantine thousands comes as Singapore saw in local cases of COVID-19, with a record 116 such cases on Sunday.
Singapore will also effectively enter a lockdown from Tuesday, closing schools and workplaces deemed to provide nonessential services for a month.
As of Monday, there are 1,309 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Singapore, with at least six deaths reported, according to Johns Hopkins University
The Associated Press contributed to this report.