Caseworker Alfiyan (standing) keeps at least one metre away as he discusses a problem with his client.
13 February 2020, updated 22 March 2020
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, on 13 February 2020, had 58 persons testing positive in Singapore, a number that by 21 March 2020, had grown to 432 cases of which 140 have fully recovered and unfortunately, two others have passed away.
There have been a few domestic workers affected as were several other work pass holders from a variety of countries: Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Japan, Australia, Germany, UK, etc. There has so far been one cluster of five Bangladeshi construction workers working at the same site. Four of them have recovered but one remains critically ill as at 21 March 2020.
We swung into action when the government raised DORSCON (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) to orange early February. 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…
Disposable surgical masks were out of stock everywhere in February. Whilst the government has distributed four masks to every Singaporean households, foreign workers have not been included in the programme. Fortunately, the supply situation improved in March and we received donations of a few 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. That said, we note that there is no recommendation for everyone to wear masks, only those who are ill, or have coughs and sneezes.
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 disinfectant provided 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, photocopiers and tabletops
- 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.
At our field office which is located on the upper floor, the stairs are where men queue for their turn. We’ve marked the queuing spots with hazard tapes to ensure they stand a metre apart.
A worker gets his temperature taken.
At our field office too, we ensure we sit further apart from our clients than we usually do.
When the epidemic began, many workers wore masks, but gradually they dropped this practice. They’ve been very cooperative in abiding by our requests to wash hands, queue and sit at a distance.