SINGAPORE - A total of 300,000 surgical masks will be given out to taxi and private-hire car drivers, and temperature-taking stations will be set up for them to better protect them from the coronavirus, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Monday (Feb 10).
The masks, which are in packs of four and come from the Government's stockpile, will be given out to them from Tuesday through their 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 on Monday that taxi operators will be setting up eight temperature-screening stations across all taxi operators' premises from Tuesday.
Drivers can go to these stations to have their temperature taken and receive a sticker for the day to indicate that 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 together with the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicle Association (NPHVA) to set these up.
The authority also advised drivers to drive with their windows down if their passengers have flu-like symptoms, and to clean their vehicles more often.
Speaking to reporters following a dialogue with about 60 taxi and private-hire car drivers on Monday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said these measures are meant to both 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," said Dr Janil.
In the past week, there have been three cases of a taxi driver and private-hire drivers who have been infected by the coronavirus. All had no recent travel history to China.
Case number 27, which was announced on Feb 5, is a 45-year-old Singaporean man who drives a private car.
He is the husband of an earlier case who works in health products shop Yong Thai Hang in Cavan Road.
Three days later on Feb 8, a 64-year-old local cab driver was announced to have been infected.
He was the 35th case made known here, and was said to have largely stayed at home after the onset of his symptoms.
The Ministry of Health also announced on the same day that another local private-hire driver had become infected.
Case number 37, who lives in Jurong East, is a 53-year-old man who visited two GP clinics after reporting his symptoms.
MEASURES BY COMPANIES
ComfortDelGro said on Monday that besides temperature screening and giving its cabbies masks, the company is also providing disinfecting solution to taxi drivers so that they clean and disinfect their cabs daily.
On Tuesday, the company added that its cabbies have been advised to clean their taxis more frequently and disinfecting solution will be distributed to all its 11,000 taxis starting Thursday.
"We have instituted the standard operating procedure for our cabbies to print receipts at the end of every trip so that our passengers can track their journeys," said the company. "For street hail passengers, a better way to track their taxi trips is to download the ComfortDelGro Taxi Booking App and use the 'pay for street hail' feature."
Cabbies have also been told to wind down windows between trips and when driving passengers with flu-like symptoms. Private-hire car company Gojek also similarly advised its drivers, going by a note circulated to them that was seen by The Straits Times.
Temperature checks for ComfortDelGro cabbies have also been conducted at the refuelling stations at Yishun and Marymount twice a day, with plans to expand this to Loyang and Pandan workshops.
Gojek drivers were also encouraged to log their temperatures twice a day in an online form.
Meanwhile, ComfortDelGro's driving centre in Ubi will also be carrying out cleaning and disinfection of all vehicles and common facilities.
SMRT said on Tuesday that has distributed more than 1,400 care packages to its cabbies.
Each care package includes a pack of 10 surgical masks, a bottle of hand sanitiser, and a bottle of disinfectant.
More stocks have been ordered for a second round of distribution.
Similarly, Gojek said in an announcement to its drivers that it would provide drivers with a pack of four surgical masks from Tuesday on a first-come, first serve basis.
SMRT has also facilitated temperature screening for cabbies twice a day from Tuesday.
Following the screening, if their cabbies do not have a fever, they will receive a sticker for the day to display on their left shirt sleeve.
Both Gojek and SMRT advised their drivers to stop driving and seek medical attention immediately if they feel unwell.
During Monday's 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.
As the virus is droplet-spread, stressed Dr Janil, that is the approach the Government is taking with regards to containing the virus.
This means that rather than being passed via the air in a small confined space like a car or a taxi, small bits of fluid from the mouth and nose that carry the disease move from one person to the next, usually in face-to-face encounters.
"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.
DROP IN EARNINGS
But cabbies and private-hire drivers whom The Straits Times had spoken to earlier had reported drops 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 on Monday that drivers of both taxis and private-hire cars have seen their earnings fall by about 30 per cent in the past week or so.
Also from Sunday, ride-hailing operator Grab suspended its GrabShare service here, amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
"Due to the latest developments, GrabShare services will be temporarily unavailable from Feb 9, 1am until further notice," the company said in a notice to app users on Saturday, adding that it was working with the authorities to "monitor the situation".
The drop in the riders they get from the escalating coronavirus situation has negatively impacted the lives of drivers, said Mr Ang.
He added: "It has put a toll on our drivers, meaning that they will have to drive longer hours, or to drive to more places just to try to meet as many customers as possible," he said.
One affected driver is Mr Raymond Ong, 60, who has been driving a taxi for 20 years.
Mr Ong, who is also the president of the NTA, said that what he and his colleagues are worried most about is covering the costs of the rental of their cars and their petrol.
Both Mr Ang and Dr Janil said more measures are being put together to help these drivers deal with the drop in the demand for their rides.
Earlier this month, a care package was announced for drivers who are quarantined due to the virus.
They are also eligible for a daily $100 allowance from the Government while they are quarantined.
Additionally, all taxi companies, as well as private-hire firms Gojek, Grab, Ryde and Tada, will give these affected drivers a one-off allowance of at least $100.
On Sunday, the Government announced three more cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of people who have been infected here to 43.
Six are now in critical condition and in the intensive care unit, up from four previously, said MOH in its latest update.
Meanwhile, four have been discharged, making up a total of six who have recovered.