Fears of possible coronavirus infection have spread panic among Bangladeshi workers in Singapore after one of their fellows was diagnosed with the deadly virus on Sunday.
A number of expat workers said over the phone that they are being treated on suspicion of being infected at workplaces and other important spots. Also, many are preparing to return to Bangladesh amid a growing fear of infection by the deadly virus.
They also expressed their concerns as their employing companies in Singapore said they might close for at least two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Singapore authorities have kept eight Bangladeshi workers, who were roommates of the infected man, in quarantine. Mostafizur Rahman, Bangladesh's high commissioner in Singapore, confirmed the matter to The Business Standard.
Singapore, which has reported 33 cases so far, on Friday raised the alert level to "orange", indicating the situation is severe and the virus can easily infect people. During the fatal 2003 SARS outbreak too, the country issued the same alert level.
However, workers housed in a dormitory, Kaki Bukit, where the 39-year-old Bangladeshi was infected, have been asked to stay away from work out of fear that their employers could fall sick through infection.
Many who went to their workplaces on Monday were sent back to the dormitory.
About 7,000-8,000 workers reside in the Kaki Bukit dormitory, with 12 workers in each room. Of the total, about 3,000 are Bangladeshi expat workers. The dormitory, however, has cooking and toilet facilities.
Ibrahim Khan, a Bangladeshi worker from Bhola district, said he went to his workplace but the firm's security guard did not let him in.
"In fact, no worker has been able to enter the worksite since Monday morning. We are now roaming around without work," he said.
Md Rana, another worker from Chandpur, said he was in his dormitory as the authorities concerned had announced that no one would be allowed to go out.
"Some workers left the dormitory before the announcement but they failed to enter their workplaces," he said.
"Actually we are in fear and tension. Many workers are in tears here. We are losing heart," he further said, alleging that the workers had not got any motivation from the Bangladesh High Commission.
Employers providing prevention tools
Singaporean companies have been distributing free prevention materials among their workers in a bid to help them ward off infection. They have also made it mandatory for masks to be worn at every place in the city-state.
Md Fuad Mollah, a worker at Home Stay Lodge Management, said his firm was cautious about coronavirus.
"They gave us masks, thermometers and hand gloves. After every 30 minutes, we check our body temperature. And no one is allowed to work without hand gloves and masks," he said.
Companies may close for at least 14 days
The companies, where mostly Bangladeshi and Indian expatriates work, informed workers that they could close for at least 14 days if more workers were found to be affected by coronavirus.
According to Singapore's Ministry of Manpower, the country has 5.7 million people. Around 14 lakh foreigners work there. Of the total number of workers, about 1.40 lakh are Bangladeshis.
Many Bangladeshi workers said they would be in financial trouble if their companies were shut down. Some of them also feared that the period of the closure might be extended.
"We had no tension until Sunday. But now the situation is different," said Md Suhin, a construction worker.
He maintained that Bangladeshi expats will be the worst affected as most of them work at construction sites as labourers.
Many preparing to leave Singapore
Monsur from Gazipur and Ripon from Munshiganj, panic-stricken over coronavirus, have already resigned from their company to return to Bangladesh. Many others are also planning to come back.
They said their families in Bangladesh are also repeatedly asking them to return.
Monsur said, "My life is my first priority. I do not want to be infected by coronavirus."
High Commission's statement
The Bangladesh high commissioner in Singapore said the infected Bangladeshi worker has been receiving treatment under the supervision of the Singapore authorities.
"We cannot do anything for the infected person," High Commissioner Mostafizur Rahman said.
"We have urged all Bangladeshi workers through our website and Facebook page not to panic over coronavirus. We will do everything for them," he added.