Covid-19 measures leave Southeast Asia’s migrant workers exposed, lay bare their living conditions

Job loss, crowded quarters and reduced access to healthcare are among the issues foreign workers face. Advocacy groups say the pandemic can only be controlled with an inclusive approach that protects every individual’s rights to life and health.

The spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus among Singapore’s migrant workers has thrown the vulnerability of this community into sharp relief as Southeast Asia continues to grapple with the pandemic.

Singapore, together with Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei, are the key destination countries for migrant labour in Southeast Asia.

The city-state’s response to the pandemic in recent months, such as contact-tracing and containment measures, has been praised by many public health experts. But on Sunday (5 April), the government ordered the quarantine of about 20,000 migrant workers living in two dormitories after the Covid-19 clusters grew to 63 confirmed cases in one dormitory, and 28 cases in the other. Workers in the dormitories told national newspaper The Straits Times of cockroach-infested rooms, overflowing toilets and the lack of social distancing measures, sparking public outrage over their living conditions.

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Neo Chai Chin