In the early stages of the COVID- 19 pandemic in February 2020, Singapore appeared to have control over the spread of the virus among the general population. This changed quickly, however, in late March 2020, when several new clusters of infection emerged, and the number of cases soared. By early April, Singapore had one of the highest rates of infection per capita of anywhere in the world. Beneath this startling statistic is a complex picture of migrant worker infection clusters connected to a structural and institutional history of socio- spatial exclusion and economic marginalization (see also Azlan, Chapter Fourteen). It is this structural regime that arguably helped produce a situation by April 2020, where over 90 percent of Singapore’s infections and all major infection clusters were located among the thousands of transient migrant workmen, predominantly from South Asia, working in the city state.
The chapter examines the governance of migrants through urban space in ‘pandemic times’. Migrant workers represent a group with heightened vulnerability to infection due to their precarious working and living conditions. I argue that this vulnerability, as well as the early responses to the pandemic, which largely excluded migrant workers, has produced intense pandemic governance of migrant workers vis- à- vis the citizen/ permanent resident population. I argue that these two aspects of migrant worker precarity are mutually reinforcing; vulnerability to infection is shaped by a pre- existing political economy of governance that contains and marginalizes migrant workmen, with responses to this heightened vulnerability reinforcing and exacerbating these very same processes of containment and marginalization.
May 2022 onwards
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