Coronavirus: Task force formed to raise hygiene standards and make them the new norm

SPH Brightcove Video
How do you navigate social situations that require meeting and greeting without handshakes? Multimedia journalist Hairianto Diman meets etiquette expert Teo Ser Lee to get tips on how to meet others with less contact while not appearing rude
Under the SG Clean campaign, hawker centres and food stalls can get a quality mark to show they have met enhanced hygiene and cleaning standards. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - With Covid-19 likely here for the long haul, the entire nation needs to take cleanliness and public hygiene to the next level, with people picking up some new habits to stop the spread of the disease, such as washing their hands often with soap, taking their temperature daily and using serving spoons when sharing food.

So the SG Clean Taskforce, headed by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and comprising representatives from various ministries, has been set up to raise hygiene standards at a whole-of-nation level.

Mr Masagos said at a press conference on Friday (March 6): "We need to step up cleanliness and hygiene, to make this our new norm.

"This is our best way forward, because this is how we can carry on with our lives."

The total number of people found to have Covid-19 here stands at 117.

Environmental contamination is an important factor in the transmission of the virus, according to the latest research. But the virus is also easily removed by disinfection, underscoring the importance of cleaning high-touch public areas.

On its part, the Government is making sure that hygiene standards are up to scratch - that public toilets are clean and dry, and stocked with soap, for instance.

The idea is that the authorities set the standards, and owners of premises in charge of hawker centres, schools, factories and shopping malls, for example, commit to them, and keep at it, with audits to make sure that the effort is not just a one-time exercise, Mr Masagos explained.

But individuals too, must do their bit, he stressed, and make them a way of life.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli holds an SG Clean quality mark certifying that Our Tampines Hub hawker centre has met certain hygiene standards on Feb 16, 2020. With him are Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor and FairPrice Group chief executive of food services business Alden Tan. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

This includes a new way of thinking.

Pieces of tissue paper, for instance, should be considered as small "biohazards", he pointed out, and people should dispose of these items themselves, rather than leaving them for cleaners.

At spots such as hawker centres, people are encouraged to eat on their trays, so that food drops on trays - not tables.

And when sharing food, serving spoons should be used, with no double-dipping. People could even consider not sharing food altogether.

This will go a long way towards preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and any future outbreaks.

"We don't know how long Covid-19 will last, but we're entering a new situation, a new normal," he said.

Said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force set up to battle the spread of the virus: "If we do this right it will allow our lives to continue as normally as possible while putting in place necessary precautions against Covid-19."

Fellow co-chair, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said: "We are not helpless in this scenario."

Although there are multiple efforts to combat the virus on various fronts, social and individual responsibility - through actions which may seem simple - is an effective way of slowing down its spread.

Current clusters in Singapore have developed from gatherings and close contact of people, be it in a religious, workplace or social setting, he noted.

So being responsible, if you're sick, for instance, and not going out, is vital.

The SG Clean campaign was launched on Feb 16 to raise cleanliness and safeguard public health amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the campaign, hawker centres and food stalls can get a quality mark to show they have met enhanced hygiene and cleaning standards.

These include ensuring that food preparation areas and equipment are sanitised, waste is handled properly, and systems are in place to monitor staff health.

To date, close to 2,000 hawker and market stalls, and 345 coffee shop stalls have been awarded the quality mark.

And on Wednesday, it was announced in Parliament that hawker centres, schools, childcare facilities and eldercare centres will have to undergo compulsory cleaning at prescribed minimum frequencies under new rules.

Remote video URL

The amendment to the Environmental Public Health Act will hold owners responsible for the cleanliness of their spaces.

They will have to set out an environmental sanitation programme listing areas to be cleaned and disinfected at regular intervals, including commonly neglected "back-of-house" spaces such as bin centres, refuse holding areas and loading and unloading bays.

Owners will have to appoint a person to develop and monitor the sanitation programme, provide advice on remedial actions when necessary as well as keep cleaning and disinfection records.

As of noon on Thursday, there were 117 cases of infection here. A new cluster was also confirmed on Thursday at a private dinner function at Safra Jurong.

Mr Gan told Parliament the same day that Singapore needs to prepare to live with Covid-19 for a long time, and brace itself for significantly more new cases, even as it was announced that a prolonged outbreak could delay major projects like Changi Airport's Terminal 5.


Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.