Anatomy of Singapore's outbreak
How the virus spread through migrant worker dormitories
Very early cases of the virus were mostly imported into Singapore
Local transmission began in February and clusters of infections began to emerge
In April, a large number of foreign workers began to get infected causing many dormitory clusters
Sungei Tengah Lodge
Tuas View Dormitory
Westlite Toh Guan
Mandai Lodge I
31 Sungei Kadut Avenue
of God cluster
SAFRA club dinner
Once held up as a role model for its battle against coronavirus, city-state Singapore has struggled to contain an infection spread that is now centred around foreign worker dormitories, construction sites and factories.
The animation above shows every infection and how the virus formed clusters as it made its way through the Southeast Asian island nation in the early stages of the outbreak. The Ministry of Health stopped reporting case-level data on April 19, but the explosion in dormitory cases had become evident by that time.
More than 300,000 foreign labourers, mainly from Bangladesh, China and India, live in dormitories, in rooms equipped with bunks for 12 to 20 men who work jobs that pay as little as $14 a day.
From April 20, as the number of cases began to rise dramatically, the Ministry of Health stopped publishing granular detail on individual cases but did report aggregated figures and some information on clusters. The scale of the dormitory problem remained clear.
Reuters counted at least 210 clusters of infection from daily data released by the health ministry since the start of the outbreak in January. Following the dramatic increase in dormitory cases over the past few weeks, the majority of cases are located at dorms or industrial addresses.
The majority of foreign labourers in Singapore stay at one of the 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore, housing 200,000 workers. There are also 1,200 converted factories housing 95,000 workers and various other smaller temporary quarters, according to the Ministry of Manpower.
The largest cluster by far comes from the sprawling dormitory complex called S11 @Punggol. The company which owns the complex advertises the “cheapest dormitories in Singapore.”
The dormitory can house up to 14,000 workers in four-storey buildings on about 5.8 hectares, roughly the same area as eight soccer pitches, according to local media reports.
Concentration of clusters
Some of Singapore’s clusters in the wider community and those at construction sites are more evenly distributed across the island. However, the rest are located on the fringes of the modern city-state, industrial areas little visited by tourists where land is cheap. Most dormitory residents work in the construction industry, which in just over half a century has transformed Singapore from colonial backwater to gleaming metropolis. Others work in shipyards or preen the gardens of luxury condominiums.
The government has said that the situation in the dormitories has stabilised and has committed to testing all dormitory residents over the coming months as it looks to get people back to work and reopen its economy. Yet with hundreds of new cases still being reported each day, the tiny city-state of just 5.7 million now has one of the highest infection rates in Asia – underlining the scale of the challenge of keeping the coronavirus at bay even in countries praised for their response.