SINGAPORE — Rather than the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) ‘unilaterally’ issuing an advisory telling employers not to send migrant workers for COVID-19 testing, the ministry did so at the request of doctors and medical experts, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Sunday (5 July).
“Professor Tambyah claimed that the multi-ministry task force has not been relying on the advice of medical experts. And specifically, that the Manpower Ministry issued an advisory to employers, telling them not to get the workers tested against the advice of medical experts,” said Wong.
“These are baseless and false allegations.”
Addressing reporters at the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Woodgrove branch, he added, “Remember, this happened in February, after the Seletar Aerospace (coronavirus cluster). At that time, many employers were asking their workers to go to the A&E (accident and emergency) departments of hospitals to be tested, in order for the workers to be certified free from the virus and fit for work.
“And the reason why they did this was because the employers wanted their workers to be sent, not just for testing, but to be certified free from infection, and fit for work, even when the workers are well, and have no symptoms at all. And the doctors themselves say that it's not possible for us to issue such a memo certifying that the workers are free from infection, and are fit for work. The doctors were unable to do this.”
And that's why MOH, director of medical services, the professionals felt that this needed to be clarified. And they asked MOM to put out the advisory.”
Wong, who anchors the PAP team for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, was responding to Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Paul Tambyah’s suggestion earlier this week that the MTF took its eye off the ball and began focusing on the election rather than public health. Wong is co-chairman of the MTF on COVID-19.
On 19 February, The Straits Times reported that MOM had threatened to revoke the work pass privileges of “irresponsible” employers who sent healthy workers to hospitals to have them tested for the coronavirus.
Dr Tambyah, a leading infectious diseases expert, told a forum on Friday that "all hell broke loose" in March, with individuals returning from the United States and Italy, and outbreaks in the foreign worker dormitories.
"I have an opinion as to why that happened, I don't know for sure. But you know that was the time they started talking about an early election. And you wonder whether the ministerial committee lost their focus on the public health and started thinking about the election."
Tambyah is the SDP’s candidate for Bukit Panjang SMC.
On Sunday, Wong accused Tambyah of “undermining the work of everyone on the front line”, adding, “It is very disappointing that he has deliberately chosen to distort the facts, just to try and score some political points. I had fully expected and I was prepared for the SDP to do this, but I had expected better of Professor Tambyah. “
Unsafe to hold an election?
Wong also acknowledged that the enforcement and practice of safe distancing measures on the ground during the campaign period has been “uneven”. So what does he think of the criticism by several opposition parties that it is unsafe to hold an election, especially given that mass events are still considered unsafe to hold.
“So, the question about whether the practices are uneven, I think applies across the board. It's not just about candidates. We do know that there are F&B operators that are not doing as much as they can. We do know that there are places where there are crowds, where people do gather. So it's not about elections,” said Wong.
“All of us must do our part as individuals to be part of this battle against COVID-19 together. So this is not a issue of elections. Whether or not you have elections, we will be dealing with the pandemic for a long time. As we have said, it's not a matter of months, it could be more than a year. So this situation, this whole issue of learning to live with COVID-19, learning to comply with safe distancing measures, embracing this as a habit, really has to be integral to our lifestyles and all of us have to do more.”
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