A total of 300,000 surgical masks will be given to taxi and private-hire car drivers, and temperature-taking stations will be set up to better protect them from the coronavirus, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday.
Packs of four masks, which come from the Government, will be distributed from today through the drivers' companies and operators.
LTA said in a statement: "These masks are intended for drivers to offer to passengers who are unwell but do not have a mask and need a ride to seek medical attention."
The authority also announced that from today, taxi operators will be setting up eight temperature screening stations across all their premises.
Drivers can go to these stations to have their temperature taken and receive a sticker for the day, to indicate their temperature has been checked.
LTA added that private-hire car companies such as Grab and Gojek will require their drivers to take their own temperature and to submit their readings via their apps.
More temperature-taking stations will be progressively added islandwide, said LTA, which will work with the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicle Association (NPHVA) to set these up.
Speaking to reporters following a dialogue with about 60 taxi and private-hire drivers yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said these measures are meant to protect drivers and to assure members of the public that taxis and private-hire cars are safe to ride.
"We need to find a way to restore confidence. Passengers need to find a way to be confident in the vehicle and the drivers picking them up," he said.
In the past week, there have been three cases of taxi drivers and private-hire drivers who were infected by the coronavirus. All had no recent travel history to China.
During the dialogue, Dr Janil addressed a misconception that the coronavirus is airborne, which he said some drivers have thought to be true, and which could stoke unnecessary fears.
The virus is spread by droplets, stressed Dr Janil. This means that rather than being passed via the air in a small confined space such as a car or a taxi, fluid from the mouth and nose carries the virus. Coronaviruses are spread via droplets from a cough or sneeze.
"All the evidence currently points to this virus being droplet-spread. It is not airborne, and that is what is determining the way in which we address this issue," he said.
In an advisory on Sunday sent on its WhatsApp channel, the Government said it is safe to take taxis or private-hire cars.
But cabbies and private-hire drivers whom The Straits Times had spoken to earlier reported a drop in their earnings, with less demand for their services.
Mr Ang Hin Kee, adviser to both the NTA and NPHVA, was also at the dialogue and told reporters yesterday that cabbies and private-hire drivers have seen their earnings fall by about 30 per cent in the past week or so. He said the drop in demand has taken a toll on drivers as they have to work longer hours to make up for the dip in earnings.
Mr Ang and Dr Janil said more measures are being put together to help these drivers deal with the drop in demand.