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Swabbers Wanted: Singapore recruits virus testers as cases climb

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore is offering generous salaries for people to perform nasal swabs at places like quarantined migrant dormitories as the city-state ramps up its testing regime to bring down one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Asia. FILE PHOTO: Medical workers perform a nose swab on a migrant worker at a dormitory, amid…

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore is offering generous salaries for people to perform nasal swabs at places like quarantined migrant dormitories as the city-state ramps up its testing regime to bring down one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Asia.

FILE PHOTO: Medical workers perform a nose swab on a migrant worker at a dormitory, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The job advert posted by e2i, an employment initiative under the National Trades Union Congress, said applicants had to be medically fit with no history of chronic disease, and proficient in English. Medical experience was not required.

“Currently hiring swabbers,” said the job advert, explaining successful applicants would be trained to conduct nasopharyngeal swabs – a method of gaining samples from the back of the nose and throat by inserting swabs into the nostril.

Island nation Singapore has nearly 27,000 cases, the highest per capita infection rate in Asia, largely due to mass outbreaks in cramped bunk-bed accommodation housing foreign labourers.

The government, which has ordered a nationwide lockdown due to run until June 1, said it aims to test all 323,000 foreign workers living in dormitories in the coming weeks as it looks to get people back to work.

To do so, it aims to ramp up its daily testing capacity to 40,000 from around 8,000 currently.

The job advert received some backlash over the offered salary, which at S$3,800 a month is higher than that of entry-level nurses whose salaries start at S$3,300 a month.

Facebook user Willie Kan said the authorities should consider raising the minimum pay for other healthcare workers such as nurses and paramedics to S$3,800 per month during the pandemic. “It’s only right and proper,” Kan wrote on the Facebook page of Singapore’s parliament speaker who had shared the job ad.

Singapore’s health ministry in a statement sought to explain the pay discrepancy by saying that unlike other full-time healthcare workers, the swabbers – hired under an initial six-month contract – are not offered career progression or additional allowances or bonuses.

Others said that the salaries for the six-day-a-week job were warranted given the dangers of working in quarantine zones such as migrant dorms, facilities for recovering COVID-19 patients and nursing homes.

The salary was removed from the job postings on e2i’s website on Friday afternoon.

Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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