Coronavirus: Indian superstar Rajinikanth offers supportive words to Singapore's quarantined workers

PHOTO: Twitter/rajinikanth

"This too shall pass."

That was the Tamil New Year message from the hugely popular film star Rajinikanth on Tuesday to Singapore's Tamil diaspora - including tens of thousands of quarantined guest workers - as the festival was commemorated with little fanfare amid a partial lockdown induced by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 69-year-old actor - revered by wide swathes of Tamil people as "Thalaivar" (leader) - joined a growing number of high-profile personalities who are offering such words of support to migrant workers, many of whom have been subject to strict lockdown conditions in their host countries.

In Singapore, a large of proportion of some 200,000 low-wage migrant workers currently quarantined in their cramped dormitories are from Bangladesh and the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Tamils and Bengalis marked their respective new years on Tuesday.

Across South Asia and Southeast Asia, millions of people will mark similar festivals this week in muted fashion. In Thailand, public Songkran festivities have been cancelled, and Myanmar has similarly axed official celebration of its Thingyan festival.

Rajinikanth in his 52-second message on Twitter urged diaspora Tamils to abide by restrictions put in place by their host governments.

"This is the biggest gift you can gift to your family in this new year," said the actor, addressing overseas Tamils. "Your family members who are living apart from you are thinking and worrying about you all the time."

"Please be well, don't worry. This too shall pass," he said in Tamil.

Singapore's Information Minister S. Iswaran thanked the actor for "agreeing to my request to do this Covid-19 message".

"It is a sincere message delivered in his unique style," Iswaran said on Facebook.

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Rajinikanth enjoys a cult-like following even in his silver years, as he continues to star in films that cast him as middle aged with the help of make-up and technology.

Followers have been known to pay homage by bathing billboard-sized cut-outs of him with milk.

Earlier, the country's Ministry of Manpower said it distributed some 123,000 traditional Indian sweets prepared by local temples to the workers to mark the Tamil and Bengali New Year.

The workers also received "fast food treats" to celebrate the occasion, the ministry said.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in her own video message - subtitled in Tamil and Bengali - told the workers "the Singapore government is doing everything we can to take good care of you".

"We also need your help to be patient. We know it is hard to stay indoors all the time. But it is absolutely important to keep you and your friends safe."

Singapore's effort to quarantine the foreign workers has not been smooth sailing, with the government last week inundated with complaints about the filthy conditions of the dormitories in which the workers were supposed to remain in for 14 days or more.

The deployment of military personnel and other government services to rapidly rectify the situation has seen conditions improve, officials say.

More than 40 per cent of Singapore's total of 3,252 infections are work permit holders, many of whom live in the country's 43 mega-dormitories.

All the dormitories are under virtual lockdown measures, meaning the residents cannot leave their accommodation and face strict social distancing rules to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.