SINGAPORE - Changi Airport has begun a special testing operation from Sunday (May 9) to test 9,000 workers in order to root out any hidden Covid-19 cases among airport workers.
Its main cleaning contractor for Changi Airport Terminal 3, Ramky Cleantech Services, will be placed on a safety time-out for 14 days starting from Monday (May 10), after four Covid-19 cases were detected recently among its cleaners, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG) said in a joint statement on Sunday.
Vaccinated frontline airport workers, who were earlier placed on 28-day rostered routine testing (RRT), will now be tested every 14 days instead.
Separately, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said that a testing operation for nearly 4,000 port workers will conclude on Sunday evening, after four cases were detected at the seaport in the past 10 days.
Commenting on the testing operations, Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung said on Sunday evening that the one-time testing exercise for airport and seaport workers will serve as a reset button.
After any cryptic cases are picked up, more stringent measures will be put in place. For instance, higher risk workers who are exposed to seafarers and travellers will be separated from their colleagues, said Mr Ong.
Surveillance measures such as RRT will be carried out more frequently, while authorities will push to vaccinate the rest of the medically eligible workers at the seaport and airport.
"We need to protect our frontliners in order to protect the rest of Singapore... We will review these measures constantly, to defend and secure our borders," Mr Ong wrote on Facebook.
At Changi Airport, Terminal 3 Basement 2 will be closed to the public with effect from Monday (May 10), pending MOH's investigations, the agencies added. The stores and restaurants at other levels of Terminal 3 will remain open.
Basement 2 of Terminal 3 is of particular concern, as several of the Covid-19 cases had visited outlets there.
Other than deep cleaning, staff working at these food and beverage and retail outlets also need to test negative for Covid-19 before the outlets are allowed to reopen to serve customers.
When they do reopen, they will be allowed to provide take-away orders only to airport staff. Dining in will not be allowed, except in special allocated areas for airport workers who are unable to consume their meals at their place of work, said CAAS and CAG.
"We will work with affected companies to minimise the impact of these arrangements on their staff and airport operations. Rental rebates will be provided to affected tenants to provide financial support," said the statement.
CAG said it will be contacting affected tenants directly. During this period, menus from the affected outlets may not be available on Changi Eats, Changi Airport's food delivery service.
The customer service counter at Terminal 3 Basement 2 will also be closed. Customers needing assistance should visit Information Counter at Terminal 3 Arrival Hall at Level 1 said Changi Airport in a Facebook post on Sunday.
The measures come after three men working at Changi Airport were detected as new Covid-19 community cases reported on Saturday.
As a precaution, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said it will test all staff working at Changi Airport Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, and Jewel. CAAS and CAG said about 9,000 workers will be tested in all.
Additionally, the RRT cycle will be shortened to allow for early detection of any new cases. About 92 per cent of frontline aviation workers have been vaccinated.
"The occurrence of eight Covid-19 cases at Changi Airport over the last 10 days is worrying," said CAAS and CAG. "While 92% of frontline aviation workers have been vaccinated, the risk of infection remains."
During the 14-day safety timeout for the cleaning contractor, it will be required to conduct a full safety review, complete refresher training for its cleaners, and reinforce segregation arrangements at work for their cleaners to minimise intermixing between groups.
"It will resume cleaning of Terminal 3's public areas when all these requirements have been met and all its staff have tested negative for Covid-19," said CAAS and CAG.
The airport's main security service provider will also be increasing its safe management measures given the two Covid-19 cases among its airport staff.
It is reinforcing training and pre-operations briefings for its frontline staff at the airport, for example, to emphasise the correct procedures for personal protective equipment (PPE) and safe management measures in the airport.
All workers and travellers are required to comply strictly with safe management measures while in the airport.
Those who come into close contact with inbound travellers from high-risk countries regions are required to wear full PPE comprising face masks, face shields or goggles, gloves, shoe covers and medical gowns.
The frequency of disinfection and cleaning at the airport has also been increased, said CAAS and CAG.
Meanwhile, the MPA said the testing operation for 4,000 port workers include truck drivers, prime mover drivers, foremen, quay crane and yard crane operators, engineers, cleaners, shuttle bus drivers, canteen operators and office-based staff.
As of 3pm on Sunday, 2,750 have tested negative for Covid-19. The remaining workers are expected to be tested by Sunday night.
This comes after MOH announced on May 1 that two vaccinated lashing workers who work in Pasir Panjang Terminal and stay in the dormitories at Pasir Panjang Residence, had tested positive for Covid-19. Both were asymptomatic.
A third and fourth case involving a trailer truck driver and an operations assistant were also detected.
MPA and PSA will take additional measures, including increasing the frequency of RRT for frontline dormitory workers from every 14 days to seven days. This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers.
Terminal canteens will only allow takeaways for office staff and packed food will be delivered to frontline staff, they added.
MPA said it will also speed up the vaccination of maritime personnel. More than 32,800 maritime personnel including seaport workers, have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Among them, some 25,500 have been fully vaccinated, including more than 18,700, or 97 per cent of frontline workers who are exposed to higher risks.
Another 6,000 maritime personnel will be vaccinated in the coming weeks.