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On the Frontline with FAST
Since April 2020, Home Team officers have been in the vanguard of COVID-19 dormitory operations. Here’s an inside look at their vital work on the frontline.

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GRAPHIC: Fazlee Rosli

It was 8am on an August morning when I arrived at Westlite Toh Guan, a migrant worker dormitory at an industrial estate in Jurong East. Except for a few dormitory staff reporting for work, I was alone. I pointed my smartphone at the SafeEntry QR code, got my temperature checked by Security Officers clad in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and entered the dormitory, eager to learn more about the work of Home Team officers in COVID-19 operations. 

In early April, Westlite Toh Guan was among the very first dormitories to be gazetted as an isolation area due to a spike in COVID-19 cases within the migrant worker community. An Inter-agency Taskforce was established to support dormitory residents, and Forward Assurance and Support Teams (FAST) were swiftly deployed to Westlite Toh Guan and other dormitories across Singapore.

FAST comprises officers from the Home Team, the Ministry of Manpower and the Singapore Armed Forces. More than 1,100 officers from the Home Team were mobilised to support the Inter-agency Taskforce. Deployed at Purpose-Built Dormitories and in mobile FAST teams to cover non-Purpose-Built Dormitories (such as factory-converted dormitories and construction temporary quarters), FAST officers look into different aspects of the dormitory residents’ well-being, prioritising medical care, environmental hygiene and the provision of daily meals.

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SUPT Lee Kok Pin, Team Leader of FAST operations at Westlite Toh Guan. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

After clearing the mandatory checks, I was warmly greeted by Superintendent of Police (SUPT) Lee Kok Pin, Team Leader of FAST operations at Westlite Toh Guan. A veteran officer who has served with Singapore Police Force (SPF)  for 25 years, SUPT Lee has been deployed at Westlite Toh Guan since June 2020. Besides Westlite Toh Guan, he also oversees two other dormitories in the area. 

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Dormitory residents getting ready for their swab tests. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

When I was given this assignment, I have to admit that it unnerved me. But I knew this was an opportunity to experience first-hand what our Home Team officers go through daily on the frontline of COVID-19 operations. Having previously undergone training in how to wear PPE at the MOM Services Centre (which provides assurance on the preventive measures in place to safeguard officers), I quickly suited up, adjusting my face shield, mask, isolation gown and gloves.  
 
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Station 1: The registration counter for the swab test. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

SUPT Lee led me to the area where the swabbing would be administered, and I took in the facade of the dormitory, which was reminiscent of the HDB flats we’re all familiar with. We watched as the dormitory residents made their way down for testing, which consists of three steps – registration, tagging of samples and the swab test itself. 

At the registration counter, the dormitory residents were lined up according to a nominal roll. I noticed the medical workers communicating with one another constantly to ensure the process went smoothly, all under the watchful eye of SUPT Lee.

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Station 2: Here, labels for swab samples are tagged. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli
 
At the second counter, the dormitory residents were received by a medical team from Homage and staff volunteers from Temasek Foundation who tagged the labels for their swab samples.

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Station 3: Administering swab tests to dormitory residents. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

The dormitory residents then walked over to the swabbing station. Here, they were attended by three medical workers, each with a specific role – one inserted a swab into the nose to collect a sample while the other two prepared the necessary equipment and kept the collected sample. 

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At Westlite Toh Guan and other dormitories, a range of medical support is on-hand to detect and treat COVID-19 infections. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

Having had their samples collected, the dormitory residents made their way back to their dorms. The entire process was quick, efficient and seamlessly executed by the medical workers and FAST officers.

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Overwatch: SUPT Lee supervising the swabbing process. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli
 
As I followed the swabbing process from station to station, I found myself drenched in sweat. Despite the discomfort of wearing PPE for extended periods, SUPT Lee and the medical workers remained steadfast and dedicated to their duties. At that moment, I had a newfound respect for all the frontliners working under such conditions.

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FAST officers from the Home Team on deployment. PHOTOS: CNB, ICA, SPF, SPS

At the peak of Home Team FAST operations, there were about 160,000 dormitory residents under the care of officers from the Home Team. Before his FAST deployment, SUPT Lee served with SPF’s Police Licensing & Regulatory Department, and speaking to him now, I understood a little more about his commitment to his task. “I’d mentally prepared myself for the possibility of being deployed for FAST operations,” he explained. “When I finally received the call, I was ready to carry out my duties.”

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SPF officers supporting COVID-19 operations at migrant worker dormitories. PHOTO: SPF
 
FAST officers are deployed to provide round-the-clock support to dormitory residents, and conditions on-site are often dynamic – challenges that SUPT Lee and his team have taken on with determination. Like many other Home Team officers on FAST duty, SUPT Lee also opted to maintain a distance from his family members during this period, and hasn't visited his elderly mother (who he usually meets at least once a week) throughout his deployment.

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Ensuring hygiene on-site and providing daily meals to dormitory residents – these were among the early tasks taken on by FAST. These photos of Westlite Toh Guan dormitory are from 7 and 10 April 2020. PHOTOS: MOM

As FAST built on its early experiences, COVID-19 dormitory operations stabilised, and preparations began for the next phase of support. In August 2020, MOM announced that the Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group would be established to take over the work of the Inter-agency Taskforce. That's why Team Leaders such as SUPT Lee have been helping ACE Group officers to familiarise themselves with the details of dormitory operations. 

“In the same way that my team and I have benefitted from the guidance of previous FAST officers,” he explained, “It’s now my turn to share my knowledge with the incoming team, to ensure a seamless transition and the continuity of our efforts.”

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Hand in hand: SUPT Lee (centre) with Home Team FAST officers and ACE Group officers. PHOTO: SPF

True to its name, the swift support provided by FAST since April 2020 has helped us to turn a corner in our battle against COVID-19 – but the war is far from over.

My work completed, I breathed a sigh of relief as I returned to the FAST office and took off my PPE. And though this was the end of my assignment, it was just the start of another work-day for SUPT Lee and his team. 

“It definitely hasn’t been an easy task,” he said. “But when we understand what it is that we’re all working towards, we’ll carry on our duties with a sense of purpose.”


Saluting Our Home Team Officers on FAST Duty
The Home Team was involved in supporting the Whole-of-Government effort to manage COVID-19 at migrant worker dormitories from 7 April to 15 September 2020. To learn more about Home Team officers on FAST duty, check out:
- One Home Team: Responding to COVID-19 (Part 5)
- One Home Team: Responding to COVID-19 (Part 6)
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Fazlee Rosli
  2. 18 September 2020
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