Nepalese people work in Singapore

Sudden increase in corona in Singapore can be attributed to guest workers

So far, it has been considered the model country in South Asia when it comes to Corona. While infections skyrocketed in neighboring countries, Singapore seemed to have everything under control. By the beginning of April there were just over 1,300 infections in the economic metropolis, which is known for its strict rules of cleanliness. But Singapore is currently experiencing a rapid increase: within just two weeks, the number grew to almost 10,000 infected people.

More than 1,400 new cases were registered on Monday alone, and again over 1,000 on Tuesday. Most of those infected do not belong to an elite, but are migrant workers from poorer countries in South Asia. They live away from the chic boulevards and caf├ęs, work on construction sites or as domestic helpers for several weeks or months at a time. As a rule, they live in mass quarters, with ten to twelve people per room, close together.

The rapid increase in Covid 19 infections thus reveals an imbalance that is often overlooked in normal times in Asia. The richest of the rich in Asia live in Singapore, in the rich cities of Malaysia or in the oil-rich desert cities of Qatar and Dubai. But apart from the public eye, the poorest of the poor also toil there.

Hard working conditions are getting tougher

There are currently 280,000 migrant workers in Singapore, for example. They come from India, Bangladesh or Nepal. Almost a third of Nepal's GDP is accounted for by the money that the young Nepalese send to their home villages in the Himalayas. Working conditions are not only tough in Singapore. Statistically, two Nepalese migrant workers die every day, mostly in the Gulf.

In the searing heat, they drive the building boom forward. For years they have been building stadiums in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. The wages are low, and reports of fraudulent companies are frequent. Construction work will continue during Corona, so far eight people among the workers there have officially been infected.

The WDR recently reported on empty grocery shelves in the workers' quarters. Dozens of Nepalese have lost their jobs in the United Arab Emirates and are now unable to go back or forward due to the lockdown. On Tuesday, long lines of people who wanted to be tested for the virus formed in front of a clinic in Abu Dhabi - many of the people were foreign workers. The precarious situation of migrant workers is not a priority for either the countries of origin or the countries of destination.

Internal migrants are also stuck

But the problem is not just an interstate one. When India declared its lockdown a month ago, a large number of internally migrated workers were suddenly unemployed. Many of them were stranded in expensive cities. They made their way to their villages on foot. New Delhi tried to counteract this by converting schools into accommodation. In China, where there are also thousands of migrant workers, their situation has not even begun to be dealt with during Corona.

Meanwhile, Qatar's government has announced that it will provide infected workers with free food and medicine. To what extent workers can rely on the promises remains to be seen. Singapore is strictly quarantining the huge workers' quarters to separate them from the rest of the city-state. The general lockdown was extended to early June. (Anna Sawerthal, April 21, 2020)