As the coronavirus spread around the world in early 2020 and governments grappled with the speed and scale of the unprecedented threat, the consequences for millions of migrant workers in Asia and the Middle East – who often live far from home and in less-than-ideal conditions – attracted little attention.
For several months we followed one such group in Singapore, where the authorities – who were lauded for their response to the pandemic in the general population – struggled at first to contain a dramatic outbreak of infection in transient workers’ housing.
Overcrowded and sometimes unsanitary dormitories proved to be a breeding ground for COVID-19 and the government’s initial response – to isolate the residents from the outside world – inevitably led to increased transmission within the accommodation itself.
Eventually, things improved markedly as Singapore managed to divert resources and create new bespoke facilities for those testing positive. Subsequently, the city state has introduced new housing standards to make dormitory living more resilient to public health risks.
But the experience left its scars on those who lived through it. This is their story.