Coronavirus pandemic

Essential projects restart but most construction work to resume gradually

After an eight-week break, workers from a few essential infrastructure projects led by building solutions group ISOTeam will be returning to their work sites today.

These projects have been given the go-ahead to restart on the first day after the circuit breaker, during which most works in the construction sector came to a halt.

On top of getting workers to wear face masks and ensuring the use of the SafeEntry digital check-in system, stringent measures have been put in place.

These include appointing a safe management officer to ensure that measures to guard against the spread of Covid-19 are in place, and establishing an evacuation plan at project sites for suspected Covid-19 cases, said Mr Anthony Koh, chief executive of ISOTeam.

Critical and time-sensitive projects such as MRT works will be prioritised, but most construction work is unlikely to be able to resume so soon, said contractors.

This is due to the numerous requirements that they need to fulfil in areas like housing for workers before they can restart work, which involve coordination among different employers and government agencies, they said yesterday.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has said it expects another 5 per cent of the construction workforce to gradually resume work this month, up from 5 per cent during the circuit breaker.

Mr Eddy Lau, executive director of the Specialists Trade Alliance of Singapore, which represents more than 1,300 specialist contractors and suppliers in the building and construction industry, said most of its members are unlikely to be ready to start work today. He added that all the firms are trying their best to fulfil the safe management measures and restart criteria, including having workers tested for Covid-19.

Mr V. Manimaran, operations manager of Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction, said some of his firm's clients, who are main contractors, have received approval from BCA to restart projects in essential sectors like telecommunications. "They are chasing us to start work soon, but we still need to get swab tests done for our workers first," he said.

Yesterday, the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 outbreak said an additional 28,000 workers have been cleared of the virus and can resume work, on top of about 12,000 essential workers already working during the circuit breaker. Singapore has about 320,000 foreign construction workers.

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, chairman and chief executive of construction company Kori Holdings, said that while some of his clients are ready to resume work, his workers - some of whom are temporarily housed in hotels and cruise ships - need to first be rehoused into dormitory blocks that have been cleared of the virus before they can return to work.

Mr Manimaran's firm has already started putting in place measures to comply with new Ministry of Manpower guidelines to ensure that workers can be isolated between their swab tests. Most will need to go through two tests and be isolated for 14 days in between the tests.

Dormitories which fulfil the requirements will be given priority to have their workers tested first. These include furnishing rooms with single beds placed at least 1m apart, in groups of five, with each group separated by about 2m, where possible.

Mr Manimaran's firm, which runs a dormitory for its workers, is meeting this requirement by limiting each bunk bed to one worker.

His workers will be tested for Covid-19 today. If all goes well, the 40 to 50 workers on the four projects approved for resumption may be able to return to work in two or three weeks.

"Up till a few weeks ago, we were unclear about the various requirements that we needed to fulfil. But there is clearer instruction now, and we have a better idea of how we can resume work," he said.