Coronavirus: $3.2 million raised for fund to help front-line workers fighting outbreak

Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee visiting a government quarantine facility at the Civil Service Club @ Loyang on Feb 29, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - About $3.2 million has been raised so far for a fund that aims to help front-line workers combating the coronavirus outbreak, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Saturday.

Called The Courage Fund, it was set up in 2003 for healthcare workers and victims who battled Sars or the severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The fund is now being used again to help front-line workers, including doctors, nurses and cleaners, affected by Covid-19, added Mr Lee on the sidelines of his visit to a government quarantine facility (GQF) in Loyang.

The fund also aims to support the families of healthcare workers who die from the virus, Mr Lee said, noting that help can come in the form of education grants for their children.

Other groups that the fund will assist are volunteers who contract the virus after stepping forward to help fight it, and Covid-19 patients.

"A panel that manages the Courage Fund will assess all cases and applications and disburse the support accordingly," added Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.

"The administration of the fund and its details had just been finalised," he said.

"We will look forward to applications, and will support those who need this in due course."

Details of the application process will be on the Community Chest's website from mid-March, according to a Ministry of Social and Family Development spokesman.

During his visit, Mr Lee greeted security officers and staff at the Civil Service Club in Loyang, which has been converted into a GQF and can accommodate about 132 people.

"I would like to thank our front-line officers, our healthcare front-line officers (and the) people who are operating this and other GQF, for being at the front-line, at the forefront of our fight against Covid-19," he said.

"Because of their hard work, diligence, vigilance, persistence and their unity, we have been able to keep Covid-19 at the level that we are at the moment."

But Mr Lee said things remain "very fluid and dynamic", noting that the World Health Organisation on Saturday raised its Covid-19 risk assessment to its highest level and that the virus had reached every continent except Antarctic.

There was no one quarantined at the facility during Mr Lee's visit, but it had been at its busiest when two specially arranged flights returned after evacuating 266 Singaporeans and their families from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak in China, earlier this month.

Government quarantine facilities located across the island can house about 2,000 people, according to a Ministry of National Development (MND) fact sheet.

Over 200 Certis security officers are deployed daily to secure entry into the facilities and undertake patrolling duties. A Certis spokesman said during the visit that besides the necessary personal protective equipment, "we also give out Vitamin C, snacks and beverages and ensure that officers get sufficient rest and breaks".

About 20 people are quarantined in such facilities at SAF Changi Chalet, Outward Bound School and university hostels, among others, as of Friday.

"The Government will continue to monitor the highly dynamic and evolving Covid-19 situation, and adjust our (facilities') capacity accordingly," the statement said.

Non-compliance with the quarantine order will lead to severe penalties, it added.

The average room size at the Civil Service Club @ Loyang is 12 sq m, and the facility has an Internet speed of up to 1 Gbps.

Meals are provided, but quarantined persons are to collect food at a table outside their rooms, where they have been confined.

The guardhouse will receive deliveries and notify the quarantined persons. Necessities such as towels, detergent and shower gel will also be distributed.

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Dr Melissa Tien, Dr Nelson Chua and senior staff nurse Xie Linlin are among many healthcare workers who volunteered to work on the front line in the fight against the coronavirus.

Madam Yang San, 32, who stayed at the National Community Leadership Institute on South Buona Vista Road for two weeks this month, said she was touched by the staff's actions during her quarantine period.

Madam Yang, her husband and their two children landed in Singapore on Feb 9 on the evacuation flight from Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei. She had been visiting her hometown Enshi, a city in Hubei.

With the Government's quarantine order in place for travellers who had been to Wuhan in the past 14 days, this meant the family were not able to go back to their home and had to be isolated in the facility.

Madam Yang, who works as a manager in the IT industry, told The Straits Times in Mandarin: "The staff really took care of me and my family during our stay, going to the extent of preparing a special Valentine's Day meal for us."

The meal included grilled chicken and pasta, she said. A typical meal comprised meat, vegetables, rice and fruit, she added.

"The stay was much better than we expected," said Madam Yang, who spent her time while under quarantine working and playing with her five-year-old daughter.

She said staff would also deliver magazines, children's books and Sudoku puzzles once a week for her and her daughter. They were staying together in one room.

Her husband, Mr Sohaib Sajid, 33, who works in the semiconductor industry, was with their two -year-old son in another room.

"Still, after two weeks of quarantine, I started to miss home," she added.

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