Singapore ’s top ministers on Monday firmly defended the government’s approach towards tackling the Covid-19 outbreak , as members of parliament pressed them for answers on the spate of infections in migrant worker dormitories. Manpower minister Josephine Teo said the authorities had dealt with the situation “squarely and quickly” once there was evidence the virus was spreading in dormitories, while health minister Gan Kim Yong said ministries had “moved in quickly” to set up medical posts in dorms to provide support. When asked by nominated member of parliament Anthea Ong if the government would apologise to the workers, Teo said she had heard from workers on a regular basis and had not come across “one single migrant worker himself that has demanded an apology”. Workers were more concerned whether wages would be paid, how to remit money home, and how sick workers would be treated, Teo said. She told parliament that migrant workers – who account for some 87 per cent of Singapore’s 18,778 infections – had been on the authorities’ radar since the early days of the outbreak, and pointed out that her ministry had in January told dormitory operators “to be more vigilant” and step up hygiene standards. “We produced materials in the workers’ native languages to encourage them to take steps to protect themselves,” Teo said. “Subsequently, non-essential facilities in the dormitories like gyms and television rooms were closed.” Nominated members of parliament Ong and Walter Theseira asked if a committee of inquiry would be appointed to investigate the cause of the outbreak in the dorms, and if their cramped conditions could have led to high numbers of infections. National development minister Lawrence Wong said there would be a comprehensive review after the crisis, not just on migrant worker infections but on the entire situation. Teo explained that the government had raised migrant workers’ housing standards over the years, and over 1,200 inspections were conducted on dormitories last year. Still, she said the authorities would “reflect and thoroughly look into the areas” where they could have done better “when this is over”. After Little India riot, Singapore promised migrant workers decent housing. What happened? Since migrant workers started falling ill in large numbers towards the end of March, the government has been criticised for dropping the ball in relation to the spike in infection rates, and for a blind spot regarding the country’s low-wage migrant workers. Critics have pointed out that migrant worker advocates had previously raised the issue of living conditions, including the fact that the 200,000 workers who live in 43 mega-dormitories are in rooms with 12 to 20 people each, with many more sharing toilets, showering and cooking facilities. On February 15 – a week after the first report that a migrant worker had been infected – activist Cai Yinzhou posted on Facebook a list of recommendations to keep migrant workers safe, including reducing overcrowding in dorms. On March 23, Transient Workers Count Too highlighted in a letter to The Straits Times that the cramped dormitories could lead to Covid-19 outbreaks. Even so, in her speech on Monday, Teo said a focus on “rooming arrangements on their own” might not prevent a recurrence, and that there were “multiple channels of transmission among migrant workers” such as common work sites and social activities on their days off. As the coronavirus-hit world limits exports, can New Zealand and Singapore keep trade open? She added that even though the first cases involving migrant workers were in February, when five infections were linked to a construction site, the people involved lived at five different locations and there was “no indication of higher prevalence of Covid-19 among migrant workers compared to the general community”. Teo has defended her ministry’s approach multiple times since the sharp rise in infection numbers within dormitories. On April 6, as Singapore readied itself for its partial lockdown, termed a “circuit breaker”, she told Singaporeans: “Please do not demoralise [my team] with finger-pointing. They deserve better.” On April 21, when Singapore extended its “circuit breaker” by another four weeks, she said dormitory operators had been asked to take precautionary measures in January, and that potentially high costs were not the reason tighter measures – including stopping work – had not been imposed on migrant workers earlier. Rather, she said, “to break the transmission, you really need a whole host of other things to happen – work stoppages, closing shopping areas, preventing people from socialising with one another”. Work at home would be Singapore’s new normal when coronavirus ‘circuit breaker’ ends The government had also ramped up cleaning, waste management and sanitation efforts at workers’ dormitories, as well as deploying a dedicated team comprising 380 to 400 personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force to ensure timely food delivery to workers quarantined in dormitories. The authorities have also ensured that Muslim workers get prayer mats and essentials during the fasting month of Ramadan, including dates, which are traditionally eaten when breaking fast. Close to 3,000 workers are being tested daily, while in dorms with widespread infections, workers showing symptoms are isolated and monitored, and only tested later. Authorities have also said they are looking into new ways of housing foreign workers that would be ready in a year or two, with Teo saying standards will be raised, particularly in older dorms. Health minister Gan said he was hoping that by June 1, when the partial lockdown is slated to end, migrant worker infections would be “clearly under control” and Singapore could consider further opening up its economy. The government on Monday also passed a bill to ensure that elections could be held safely amid the pandemic. Under the bill, voters who are placed under stay-home notices at designated facilities would be able to vote outside their electoral divisions. Aspiring candidates also need not be present in person during nomination proceedings if they are ill or under a quarantine or stay-home order. In passing the bill, trade and industry minister Chan Chun Sing said making contingency plans to safely conduct the next general election – which has to be held before April 2021 – was the “responsible thing to do” and was aimed at protecting voters, candidates and election officials. Chan also said the timing of the bill was “unrelated to the timing of the general election”. “The prime minister will decide when to call the election, considering the challenges confronting our country and the evolving Covid-19 situation,” he said. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.