Caseworker Alfiyan (standing) keeps at least one metre away as he discusses a problem with his client.
A big sign on our door says “Stop!”, asking visitors to wash their hands before entering. This is among the measures TWC2 put in place to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, which, as at 13 February 2020, has had 58 persons testing positive in Singapore. Of these 58, four are foreign workers from Bangladesh. [Update, as at end of day 19 Feb 2020, there were 84 cases, of which 5 were foreign workers.]
We swung into action when the government raised DORSCON (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) to orange last Saturday. Our measures are designed to reflect the advice that keeping a distance from others, frequent hand-washing and regular cleaning of touched surfaces are the common-sense steps to take. This is in line with the recommendations from the World Health Organisation (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public, accessed 13 Feb 2020) which says:
Wash your hands frequently
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if your hands are not visibly dirty.
Practice respiratory hygiene
When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue…
Maintain social distancing
Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people…
Sign on our front door.
TWC2 operates out of two locations. Similar measures were instituted at both places to protect our staff, volunteers, visitors and clients.
We ask visitors to wash their hands with soap at the building’s washroom before they enter our office. At the DaySpace where public toilets are not close by, we have a spray bottle with isopropyl-alcohol-based hand sanitiser. This is also available at the office, though we recognise the scientific advice that it may not be as effective as washing with soap.
We had to search high and low for isopropyl alcohol before we succeeded. Most places didn’t have any more stock. There were times when we felt that advice from the media or the authorities were not always realistic. If a product cannot be obtained, how is that measure feasible?
Temperature guns were also hard to find. Eventually, we had to ask friends flying in from Australia to buy two and bring them in. When they arrive on Saturday, we will start checking every visitor’s temperature as well. [Update 20 Feb 2020: The temperature guns have arrived and are in use.]
As is common knowledge, disposable surgical masks are out of stock everywhere. Whilst the government has distributed four masks to every Singaporean households, foreign workers have not been included in the programme. We’re still trying to find a work-around. Fortunately, there is no recommendation for everyone to wear masks, only those who are ill, or have coughs and sneezes. Most people do not.[Update 20 Feb 2020: We have now received a donation of several boxes, and these are available to (a) all our volunteers when they have to interact with clients, and (b) to any worker who appears to be coughing or sneezing.]
Distancing is now strictly practiced when workers come for case consultation. We have rearranged our furniture somewhat to make clients sit at least one metre (preferably 1.5 metres) from our case handlers, for example, as can be seen in the header picture and the picture below.
Caseworker David (left) has his client sitting at another desk altogether while they talk. Clients used to sit on the blue chairs, right at David’s desk.
When the consultation is over, we ask our clients to use the isopropyl alcohol to clean the surfaces that they have touched, such as tabletops and chairs, so that the place is safe for the next client coming in.
Other measures we have adopted include
- video-conferencing where practical
- increased frequency of general cleaning, especially high-contact spots such as doorknobs
- logging all visitors
Where we previously used to let clients wait their turn in the office or DaySpace, we now request that they wait outside in the fresh air till we call them in.
To be frank, everything is a bit of an inconvenience, though we understand the need. We’re hoping that with everyone in Singapore doing their part, concerns about Covid-19 will soon pass.