Coronavirus: Cabbies and private hire drivers ramp up precautionary measures

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News that a taxi driver and private hire driver are among the confirmed coronavirus cases in Singapore has spooked other drivers. PHOTO: ST FILE
Grab said the decision was made in order to minimise contact in light of more confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Singapore.


SINGAPORE - Ever since the first coronavirus case was reported here on Jan 23, cabby Alan Tay, 55, makes sure 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.

The only precaution he has not taken is to wear a surgical mask as he is well, as per the Government's recommendation.

But after the Health Ministry's announcement on Saturday (Feb 8) 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 news has spooked other cabbies and private hire drivers, who 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.

The Health Ministry had earlier said drivers have to be protected, as they are in an environment with continued exposure to many passengers.

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

Drivers have been ramping up cleaning efforts and winding down their car windows to ventilate the car after trips, said the authorities.

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.

"I'm not very worried yet, but I'll still try not to be so close to the passengers" said Mr Lian.

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 Gan J.M, 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.

One of the drivers texted her to ask if she was from China, she added.

Even after she replied that she was not, the driver told her that he was cancelling the trip.

"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 puts on a face mask while driving.

However, it is increasingly difficult to keep up with these measures, as supplies of disinfectant sprays and masks are running low, he added.

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," said Mr Tan.

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