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Phase 3, vaccines, and workers still locked up

I’m back to the weekly round-up after taking last week off to plod through a book draft. That said, this is the last weekly round-up for 2020, though, because next week’s Christmas, and then there’s the New Year the week after — I’ve got at least one special issue planned, but apart from that I’ll be writing to you in 2021.

As a way to mark the end of this year, here’s a discount: 20% off the Milo Peng Funder subscription rate if you subscribe between now and 31 December 2020.

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Vaccines are coming

In his latest address to the nation on the COVID-19 situation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered good news. We’ll enter Phase 3 on 28 December, which means there’ll be further easing of restrictions; for instance, we’ll be able to gather in groups of eight instead of five.

Vaccines are on the way; the Health Sciences Authority has already approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for pandemic use, and the first batch is expected to arrive in Singapore this month. The government expects that there’ll be enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021. There’ll be more details about a vaccination strategy later. Although it’s recommended that the entire adult population be vaccinated, and vaccination is going to be free for citizens and long-term residents, it’ll still be voluntary.

COVID-19 in the dorms

Signs that life might be going back to “normal” will bring relief to many people in Singapore, but things continue to be nowhere near normal for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, even though COVID-19 infection rates have come all the way down in the dormitories too. While Singaporeans can look forever to a post-Christmas Phase 3, thousands upon thousands of migrant workers are still essentially locked into their dormitories, and are only shuttled to their worksites and back day after day. They’re required to seek permission to leave their dormitories, even if it’s meant to be their day off — even then, they’re not likely to get permission to leave for an entire day. The government says that, in the first quarter of 2021, they’ll pilot a scheme that will allow workers in some dormitories to go out and have access to the rest of the Singapore community once a month.

The extent of the outbreak within the dormitories is also becoming clearer to us: according to the Ministry of Manpower, 47% of workers in dormitories either tested positive for the virus (via PCR tests), or tested positive for the antibody test, which indicates that they’d had COVID-19 at some point. That’s a total of 152,794 men; far, far higher than the number of positive COVID-19 cases officially reported because there were lots of cases we weren’t picking up at the time. There were just too many to swab them all.

It’s fortunate that, despite this enormous number, the death toll has been low. Most of the workers had mild symptoms, or were asymptomatic. But there’s still a lot that we don’t understand about the long-term effects of COVID-19, so vigilance and care is needed there.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) has pointed out that, if 47% of the workers have had COVID-19 and are now immune, there’s no reason why they should still be confined in the dormitories in this way, especially since the rate of cases in the dorms are just as low as they are among the rest of the population. Why are we enjoying loosening restrictions when all these men are still stuck?

The PM goes on holiday

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is going on leave for a couple of weeks. This time, there will be no acting prime minister, since he’s going to be in Singapore and still remain contactable during that time. It seems as if Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s leave will also partly overlap, which is why Heng isn’t going to be acting PM this time.

International Migrants Day

For International Migrants Day (which was yesterday), I’d like to draw your attention to two Twitter threads — just click on the tweets to open the whole thing:

Understanding drug use, addiction, and drug policy

Last weekend the Transformative Justice Collective hosted a panel on understanding drug use, addiction, and policy in Singapore (with some discussion of Malaysia). Singapore has very strict “zero tolerance” laws related to drugs, but there’s generally very little public discussion about the drivers of drug use and what’s needed to best support people on their journeys of recovery from addiction.

I’m working on a personal reflection of this conversation, because I learnt so much from it and it gave me so much to think about. So watch this space! Since it’ll fall outside the weekly round-up schedule, I’ll be sending it out directly to Milo Peng Funders directly as usual, then making the web link available to others later.

As mentioned, this is the final weekly round-up for this year. And what a year it’s bloody been. I don’t even know if I’m relieved it’s over because I’m not sure what 2021 is going to be like. But I do know that a big thank-you has to go out to everyone who’s doing the best they can to be supportive and help one another. Thank you to everyone who has donated to fundraisers for migrant workers, who has contributed to mutual aid initiatives, who has volunteered or done outreach and public education. Thank you for all the action and care and momentum. 🙏🏼

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