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Some construction to resume from June 2, with special rules

Some construction to resume from June 2, with special rules

Source: Business Times
Article Date: 16 May 2020
Author: Janice Heng

These include extra checks on workers' health and controls on housing, transport; all works need BCA's approval first.

From June 2, some construction projects will gradually be allowed to resume work, as will suspended residential renovation works. This is subject to meeting new safe-restart criteria developed for the industry, which include regular Covid-19 testing, and safe-distancing measures at worksites and dormitories.

These safe-living and safe-working measures are needed to try and prevent the risk of recurrent transmission, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at a Friday press conference called by the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19.

Safe-living measures will start in blocks for recovered workers. Such blocks are being prepared within dormitories, with about 5,400 beds expected to be ready by next week, and up to 60,000 in coming weeks.

Most construction work has been suspended during the circuit breaker, with about 20,000 or about 5 per cent of the sector's workforce continuing to work on critical projects.

In June, another 20,000 workers are expected to be able to resume work, subject to required safety measures. These will be for projects that cannot be left idle for too long due to safety concerns, and critical and time-sensitive projects such as MRT works and Deep Tunnel Sewerage System tunnelling projects.

Suspended residential renovation works will also be allowed to resume. All works, including renovation, will need BCA approval before restarting. Foreign workers must be tested for Covid-19 before they return to work, and projects must have safe-management measures in place.

Asked when works could resume on a larger scale, Building and Construction Authority (BCA) chief executive officer Hugh Lim said that a very careful approach is needed. "We expect a very slow start for at least the first phase, and then we will review what the potential is to pick up later on. At least for the first one to two months, it will be tightly controlled."

BCA will also monitor the extent to which industry players can cope with implementing the measures.

As to whether public projects such as build-to-order flats might be prioritised for the resumption of work, National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong stressed that the critical determinant is not "the merit of the project", but whether the contractor and sub-contractors are ready to restart work, with all the safeguards in place.

A Covid-Safe Restart plan has been developed for the sector by the BCA and the Singapore Contractors Association Limited. The process sector and the marine and offshore sector are also developing plans.

Under the plan, one set of criteria applies to the workforce. Among other things, workers must report their temperature, oxygen level and heart rate daily, and be regularly tested for Covid-19 - possibly every two weeks. Details are being worked out with the Health Ministry. As with all regulatory requirements, the principle is that the company must bear the cost, said Mr Wong.

A second set applies to accommodation and transport, with safe-distancing measures required. This includes tight control and monitoring of the blocks for recovered workers, with workers allowed to leave only for the purpose of work.

If the number of Covid-19 cases in dormitories falls to a "very low level", then it would be possible to consider letting workers in those blocks leave the dormitories for non-work reasons too, said Chew Ee Tien, director of the foreign manpower unit in MOM.

Workers would preferably be housed on-site to reduce the need for transportation. In off-site dormitories, all workers from the same worksite must be housed together.

The third and final set applies to worksites. This includes the appointment of safe-management officers, tech-enabled tracking such as the use of SafeEntry for worksite zones, and separating workers into teams and zones, with no cross-deployment or interaction - even outside work.

There will be an audit and inspection regime to check that resumed projects adhere to these measures; details will come in about a week.

There are also construction workers living outside dormitories, in private residential or Housing Board accommodation. Since April 20, they have been under a stay-home notice.

This expires on May 19 and will not be extended, as the incidence of Covid-19 in this group is now similar to that of the community at large. These workers will still have to comply with circuit-breaker measures, like the rest of the community.

As of noon on Friday, 793 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed, with the vast majority being foreign workers in dormitories. One case was a Singaporean or permanent resident.

The situation in worker dormitories remains stable, with the high number of new cases uncovered because of stepped-up screening, said Health Minister and task force co-chair Gan Kim Yong.

Even as circuit-breaker measures are eased, many practices should not change after June 1, he said. This includes safe distancing, hygiene standards, and wearing masks when leaving the house.

He warned that the number of community cases is likely to rise as measures are eased, but the hope is that this will be a slow rise that remains under control, and that contact-tracing and isolation will minimise the risk of large clusters.

Even as the government works on improving existing contact-tracing apps, it is also looking at solutions for people who do not use smartphones, which could include wearable dongles, said Mr Wong.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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