Migrants get taste of freedom as Singapore loosens labour curbs

By Edgar Su
Migrant workers pray at a temple, before enjoying time off at Little India, as part of a pilot programme to allow fully vaccinated migrant workers back to the community after more than a year of movement curbs due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A group of migrant workers visited Singapore's Little India area on Wednesday for their a first taste of freedom in more than a year, under a pilot programme to ease movement measures imposed to halt a spike in coronavirus infections in dormitories.

While the rest of Singapore has returned to some semblance of normal life, low-wage foreign workers have mostly been confined to living quarters, other than for work, nearby recreation or essential errands.

Migrant workers pray at a temple, before enjoying time off at Little India, as part of a pilot programme to allow fully vaccinated migrant workers back to the community after more than a year of movement curbs due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Wednesday's trip is part of a programme to allow up to 500 fully vaccinated migrant workers to visit certain public locations for six hours each week. The project will be evaluated after a month.

The Southeast Asian financial hub in April last year imposed controls on tens of thousands of mainly South Asian labourers after their often-cramped dormitories became the epicentre of last year's outbreak.

The pilot covers just a fraction of the large migrant labour population, who must take rapid COVID-19 antigen tests before and after visits.

Construction worker Vairavan Karuppaiah (R), 48, from India, shops at Little India amongst other migrant workers who were part of a pilot programme to allow fully vaccinated migrant workers back to the community after more than a year of movement curbs due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su

For the lucky few, it was a chance to roam their old haunts.

After praying at one of Little India's temples, Ayyavu Ponnaiah said he planned to do some shopping over the next few hours.

"I am very happy," he said.

Construction worker Vairavan Karuppaiah, 48, from India, enjoys time off at Little India, as part of a pilot programme to allow fully vaccinated migrant workers back to the community after more than a year of movement curbs due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Fellow Indian Vairavan Karuppaiah, who works in construction, plans to visit a shopping centre to buy new clothes.

The manpower ministry started the programme after more than 90% of workers in dormitories were vaccinated, above Singapore's overall inoculation rate of about 81%, one of the world's highest.

(Writing by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Martin Petty and Gerry Doyle)

Construction worker Vairavan Karuppaiah, 48, from India, shops at Little India amongst other migrant workers who were part of a pilot programme to allow fully vaccinated migrant workers back to the community after more than a year of movement curbs due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su

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