COVID-19 crisis: Singapore tackles rising cases with robots help
Remote-controlled robots are providing meals and teleconferencing services to reduce contact. Authorities are also trialling a four-legged robot dog, which they said could be used to deliver medicines to patients or take their temperature.
Singapore is rapidly building bed space for coronavirus patients in cavernous exhibition halls and other temporary facilities as it faces a surge in cases, mainly among its large community of low-paid migrant workers. Amid this fight, remote-controlled robots are providing meals and teleconferencing services to reduce risk of more people getting infected.
The tiny city-state of 5.7 million people registered 931 new coronavirus infections, its Health Ministry said on Sunday, taking the city-state's total number of COVID-19 cases to 13,624.
The vast majority of the new cases are migrant workers living in dormitories. Fifteen of the new cases are permanent residents. The number of new cases rose from 618 reported on Saturday.
Singapore now has one of the highest infection rates in Asia, according to official figures, due to outbreaks in cramped dormitories housing over 300,000 mainly South Asian workers.
As the government is taking several measures to deal with the rising cases, Changi Exhibition Centre -- home to the Singapore Airshow (Asia's biggest aerospace gathering) -- could eventually house over 4,000 patients recovering from the disease and those with mild symptoms.
"The entire process of setting up the infrastructure took six days," said Joseph Tan, a member of the organising committee for the temporary facility, Reuters reported.
The first patients, mainly from Bangladesh and India, were moved on Saturday into the vast conference hall, partitioned into rooms for eight to 10 people, with metal beds, plastic storage drawers and fans.
Singapore trails only China, India, Japan and Pakistan in Asia for the number of coronavirus infections. More than 10,000 of those infected, some 80% of its total, are foreign workers, many of whom have been placed in "isolation facilities" for people with mild symptoms such as the conference centres.
Despite the high total of cases, Singapore has reported 12 deaths and 24 people are in intensive care.
Singapore's young overseas labourers, earning as little as $15 a day, live in dormitories with bunk-bed accommodation in areas little visited by tourists to the modern city-state. Many are under government-ordered quarantines due to mass outbreaks, with workers left inside battling a constant fear of catching the virus.
ROBOTS HELP FIGHT COVID-19
At the new Changi isolation centre, each room has blood-pressure monitors and other medical equipment for patients to conduct their own health checks three times daily, while remote-controlled robots provide meals and teleconferencing services to reduce contact.
Authorities are also trialling a four-legged robot dog built by Boston Dynamics at the facility, which they said could be used to deliver medicines to patients or take their temperature.
The indoor space can house 2,700 patients, while an ongoing outdoor extension will add another 1,700 beds. A nearby conference centre called EXPO is already housing hundreds of COVID-19 patients.
Around 10,000 healthy workers in essential services have been moved from dormitories into alternative housing, including military camps, converted sports halls and accommodation ships for offshore workers, authorities say.
Rows of white huts are also being hurriedly assembled at the Tanjong Pagar shipping-container port. The facility could house up to 15,000 foreign workers, local media reported, but authorities have yet to decide how it will be used.
"We are continuing to explore additional space for various reasons, including facilities for suspect cases or infected workers, and also for workers who are recovering or who have fully recovered," a spokeswoman for the Ministry of National Development said in an emailed statement, adding that the Tanjong Pagar site was part of that plan.