Coronavirus outbreak: IMPACT ON SINGAPORE

Cabbies, private-hire drivers worry about protection

Many taking precautions like disinfecting cars; some avoiding hospital pick-ups

News that a taxi driver and private hire driver are among the confirmed coronavirus cases in Singapore has spooked other drivers.
News that a taxi driver and private hire driver are among the confirmed coronavirus cases in Singapore has spooked other drivers. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ever since the first coronavirus case was reported here on Jan 23, cabby Alan Tay, 55, ensures he disinfects his taxi before and after the end of every shift.

He winds down the car's windows to "air" his cab after dropping off each passenger, and sanitises his hands after handling money.

He did not wear a surgical mask, as there is no need to, according to government guidelines.

But after the Ministry of Health's (MOH) announcement on Saturday that a taxi driver and a private-hire driver are among seven new infected cases, Mr Tay said he is contemplating whether to stop driving his cab altogether.

"Also, what is the relevant authority's advice with regard to whether public transport workers should wear masks?" asked Mr Tay, who also questioned if drivers would be provided with adequate masks.

The Land Transport Authority has advised transport operators to step up their cleaning efforts and drivers are advised to wind down windows for ventilation after trips.

Saturday's MOH announcement has spooked other cabbies and private-hire drivers, who have complained of a drop in earnings, with less demand for their services.

While some drivers have taken similar precautions to disinfect their cars and protect themselves, others have reportedly avoided picking up passengers from hospitals. MOH had earlier said drivers have to be protected as they are in an environment with continued exposure to many passengers.

In an advisory yesterday, sent on its WhatsApp channel, the Government said it is safe to take taxis or private-hire cars.


Taxi driver Lian Yau Chun, 67, said he avoids speaking at length to passengers and will put on a mask when he picks up passengers at Changi Airport. He estimates that business has dropped by as much as 30 per cent, with fewer people out on the streets. But passengers who are heading to or coming back from hospitals said they are finding it hard to get a ride out of the area.

Ms J.M. Gan, 25, said she has had two private-hire drivers cancel on her in quick succession after they realised she was heading to Singapore General Hospital, where she works. "I didn't think much of it and just brushed it off, but I was late for my appointment," said Ms Gan.

Private-hire driver Tan Chew Ming said passengers he picked up from Tan Tock Seng Hospital told him that it was difficult to get a ride out from the hospital.

Mr Tan, 30, sanitises his car with a disinfectant spray every two hours and wears a face mask while driving. Although people have advised him to stop driving, he said this was not possible. "I've got no choice, I have to put food on the table."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2020, with the headline 'Cabbies, private-hire drivers worry about protection'. Subscribe