MPs review home visits amid coronavirus concerns

Dr Lee Bee Wah (left) holding her Meet-the-People Session at Block 850 Yishun Street 81 and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (second from right) and member Gerald Giam (behind, in blue) meeting residents in Aljunied GRC on March 30, 2020.
Dr Lee Bee Wah (left) holding her Meet-the-People Session at Block 850 Yishun Street 81 and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (second from right) and member Gerald Giam (behind, in blue) meeting residents in Aljunied GRC on March 30, 2020.PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN, PRITAMSINGH/FACEBOOK

But Meet-the-People Sessions, some walkabouts go on with safe distancing measures in place

Long queues formed at the People's Action Party's (PAP) Nee Soon South branch at Block 850 Yishun Street 81 last night. But this is a common sight on Mondays at the centre where Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah holds her Meet-the-People Session (MPS).

Coronavirus or not, the number of residents seeking help has stayed constant at about 60 people a night.

But the virus' effect was visible in other ways. Temperatures were taken, and desks for interviews with residents were now spaced out across two rooms instead of one. Markers helped ensure people stayed 1m apart while queueing.

Ms Lee said she has no plans to cut down on her MPS. "This is an everyday job. It is necessary for us to continue to help our residents, whether through online or offline sessions," she told The Straits Times. She also receives several appeals daily via e-mail or direct Facebook messages, she shared.

With a general election looming, engaging voters one-on-one remains a priority for MPs even as they cut back on house visits and take precautions.

The PAP MPs contacted said they would continue to hold their MPS, though several, like Ms Lee, have asked residents to make their appeals online.

The Workers' Party (WP), which earlier issued a statement saying it would temporarily suspend all house visits, declined to comment about its MPS plans. But its MPs and members have been walking the ground, and yesterday posted photos of them observing safe distancing in Aljunied GRC at the weekend.

At West Coast GRC MP Patrick Tay's Boon Lay ward, interview booths and chairs in the queue are spaced farther apart to ensure safe distancing. "We also encourage residents to e-mail us and we will follow up with phone calls and send appeals for them," he said.

On Facebook, several MPs have also asked residents to consider online appeals, such as Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in Marine Parade GRC, and MPs Ang Hin Kee in Ang Mo Kio GRC and Zainal Sapari in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

Many PAP MPs also cancelled home visits over the weekend.

In Tampines GRC, Ms Cheng Li Hui held off on door-to-door visits in her Tampines East ward, saying: "We will continue to assess the situation for the next week before we decide whether to start visits again, to prioritise the safety of our volunteers and residents."

 
 
 
 

Previously, she had asked volunteers to check and avoid visiting those who were unwell or on a stay-home notice. These residents could get help by calling the town council or e-mailing her directly.

In Boon Lay, Mr Tay had planned to visit a block of 350 units which would have involved over 20 volunteers at the weekend. He decided to postpone it after stricter distancing measures were announced and also cancelled his walkabouts. MP Vikram Nair also said on Facebook that Sembawang GRC MPs have decided to cancel home visits until end-April and are discussing other forms of outreach they can "safely do".

In Nee Soon South, Ms Lee said she was reviewing her regular weekend home visits, but would still visit residents in need at their homes.

ST understands that the decision to scale back or cancel house visits lies with the individual MPs.

When contacted, the People's Association (PA) said: "PA will conduct house visits if there is a need to reach out and assure our residents during this period."

It cited a March 13 advisory to volunteers, which said the size of house visit teams should be kept small and that volunteers should fill up travel history and health declaration forms before visits. Details like time spent interacting with each resident should be recorded for possible contact tracing, it added.

 
 
 

While the latest rules limit gatherings to 10 people, unlike Mr Tay, several MPs have continued with walkabouts. Last Wednesday, WP chief Pritam Singh asked in Parliament if such outreach should still be allowed, given they could easily lead to over 10 people gathering closely.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, said the rules apply to all activities including those by political parties, which will have to abide by them and adjust their activities.

PAP heavyweights were still seen out at the weekend, though with precautions such as distancing, going around in smaller groups and not shaking hands. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen was at a market and coffee shops in Bishan-Toa Payoh with fellow GRC MPs and potential candidate Gan Siow Huang, a former air force general. On Saturday, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam visited Ayer Rajah with the ward's MP, Ms Foo Mee Har.

Several opposition parties have cancelled their outreach efforts. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) said they have stopped door-to-door visits and weekend walkabouts. WP members Lee Li Lian and Yee Jenn Jong said on Facebook they had switched to distributing fliers, in pairs, instead of doing home visits.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said SDP would resume campaigning as soon as circumstances permit, while PSP told ST it is reviewing the situation but considering other methods of engagement.

A PSP spokesman added that its videos have been well received, and PSP is also considering livestreaming to engage with the public.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2020, with the headline 'MPs review home visits amid virus concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe