SAF-led FAST deployment to help stabilise COVID-19 dorm situationForward Assurance and Support Teams (FAST) have been deployed to help the foreign workers staying at dormitories affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
// Report by Thrina Tham
// Photos by Ong Ji Xuan & Thrina Tham
Within the first 24 hours of operations, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team at Tampines Dormitory set up a food distribution system; gave out healthcare packs; and formed WhatsApp communication channels with the residents there.
They later established a medical post as well as processes for the foreign workers to remit money back to their families.
These were put in place to look after the well-being of residents as the dormitory was gazetted as an isolation area to curb the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019).
The team is one of the Forward Assurance and Support Teams, or FAST – comprising officers from the SAF, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Singapore Police Force – that were set up to stabilise the situation in the dormitories.
They are part of the Government's strategy to manage the workers' daily needs and ensure health and hygiene at those sites.
FAST personnel have been deployed to all 43 purpose-built dormitories – about half are managed by the SAF.
"We realised that a food distribution system, (taking care of their) medical (needs), and security were of paramount importance, so that was the focus for us at Tampines Dormitory," said Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Tan Shengyang, who leads the FAST deployment there.
His team was activated on 7 Apr and comprises seven SAF personnel and five MOM personnel.
One of the first things they did was to set up a 20m by 30m tentage at the dormitory's open-air courtyard, for distribution of food daily. As part of gazetting operations, residents must stay in their rooms at all times except for the collection of meals. Only one person per room is allowed to collect meals for the room.
The FAST deployment also set up a group chat with resident "ambassadors" to help bridge the language gap.
"We went room by room to identify those who could speak English and who had WhatsApp. We added them to a group chat to disseminate information as well as to solicit immediate feedback on their needs," said SLTC Tan to the media on 21 Apr.
Such feedback has led to working with the caterer to include more fish and vegetables into the meals; as well as getting a cash remittance company to help residents send money back to their families.
Mr Mundla Anil Kumar, a resident, said candidly: "At the start (of the gazetting), things were very boring. But after a while, we got used to doing some exercises and cleaning the room."
"And then we were given free Wi-Fi in the dormitory, so we could call home or watch TV," he added. Mr Mundla has been working in Singapore for 10 years as a driver in a construction company.
The 31-year-old Indian national has stepped up to help the FAST deployment and dormitory management with food distribution and waste management.
"When I saw the (FAST) people working very hard here, from morning to evening, to give us food; and that they were not going home, I wanted to help them and do my part."
While SLTC Tan only recently had his first rest day in two weeks, he said that positive feedback from the residents keeps him motivated.
Recalling the Tamil and Bengali New Year that was celebrated with the foreign workers last week, SLTC Tan said: "We distributed traditional sweets called ‘laddu' and got fast food and pizza for them.
"We received an overwhelming response from the residents over WhatsApp, sincerely thanking us for the gesture. That's kept me going in wanting to provide as much as I can for the residents."