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Migrant worker Covid-19 outbreak: Taiwan is where Singapore was in April 2020

The Independent logo The Independent 11/6/2021 Anna Maria Romero
a sign on a busy city street © The Independent Singapore

Taiwan may be at present where Singapore was over a year ago, mainly because of a recent uptick of Covid-19 among migrant workers. This uptick is part of a surge that caught everyone by surprise, as Taiwan had shown almost no new cases for several months.

International researcher Dr Bonny Ling, writing for the online news magazine New Bloom, cited reports of an infection cluster that struck mostly migrant workers in a Miaoli County electronics factory. Fifty-nine Filipinos and eight locals were confirmed positive for Covid.

By June 5, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed that Miaoli was facing a severe local infection cluster, and the movement of migrant workers was placed under stringent restrictions.

By the following day, 182 people from the electronics factory were confirmed to have Covid, and 24 more cases were found in two other factories in Miaoli.

On June 8, 16 additional cases were reported that were linked to the Miaoli migrant factory worker cluster.

In the meantime, Covid testing was ramped up.

By the time the article in New Bloom was published on June 10, there were “960 migrant workers in quarantine facilities, 1,027 quarantined in dormitories, and another 1,100 living in a large dormitory complex who were rapid tested and awaiting results”.

Dr Ling added that it “is clear that Taiwan is at the very early beginning of what Singapore saw in April 2020, when a spike in Covid-19 infections amongst its migrant worker population led the government to order a lockdown of all migrant dormitories”.

She then outlined what Taiwan can learn from Singapore’s experience in managing the outbreak, but to do so in a way that “does not stigmatize the migrant worker population in Taiwan”.

The first lesson, Dr Ling wrote, was that there should be no discrimination “in the enjoyment of the right to health between migrant and local population; any differential treatment must meet the test of necessity”.

Dr Ling seems to suggest that Taiwan should avoid the “heavy criticism” Singapore faced when it placed more than 20,000 migrant workers in two dormitories under quarantine.

She pointed out that Taiwan has chosen to trace contacts for affected Taiwanese nationals and not for migrant workers, whose movements were instead severely limited.

Dr Ling asked, “Why did the CECC decide not to replicate contact tracing for the migrant workers in the Miaoli electronic factory but chose to trace the contacts for the affected Taiwanese nationals? Has the infection rate amongst migrant workers in the dormitories become prevalent enough to deem such blanket bans necessary?”

She also suggested that if the problem lay in contact tracing becoming too difficult given the various languages of migrant workers, there could be “additional efforts…to strengthen testing and tracing capacity in the main migrant languages for the manufacturing sector in Taiwan, predominantly Vietnamese and Filipino, but also Thai and Bahasa Indonesian”.

Another lesson from Singapore’s experience that Taiwan should adopt is to “urgently improve” the conditions in the migrant worker dormitories, including in matters of cleanliness and hygiene, as well as the number of people allowed per facility.

Dr Ling also pointed out that in Singapore, another criticism was that “the quarantine for migrant workers was exceptionally long”. She advocated for measures to be reviewed periodically and for accurate information to be conveyed in the migrants’ own languages, and “in parallel, misinformation and stigma of migrant workers must be actively countered”.


The post Migrant worker Covid-19 outbreak: Taiwan is where Singapore was in April 2020 appeared first on The Independent Singapore News.


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