SINGAPORE - Efforts to raise hygiene and cleanliness standards at hawker centres, coffee shops and public toilets will be ramped up from Friday (June 19), when restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 are eased and people can eat out.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Wednesday (June 17) that diners at hawker centres or coffee shops will be reminded by safe distancing ambassadors to properly dispose of their used tissues and wet wipes, and return their trays and crockery to centralised stations.
Public toilet owners and operators will also have to ensure the facilities have such basic amenities as liquid hand soap, toilet paper and litter bins, the NEA added.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who oversees the NEA, said: "Cleanliness and good standards of hygiene are our first line of defence against evolving public health threats."
He added: "We need to make simple habits, such as returning our trays and disposing used tissues or wipes properly, social norms at hawker centres and coffee shops. This will complement NEA's renewed efforts to uplift public toilet cleanliness in Singapore."
On Friday, most activities will be allowed to resume under phase two of Singapore's reopening, including eating out, which has been banned since April 7.
The NEA assured diners that cleaners will not lose their jobs when they return their trays, saying the cleaners will have tasks to do at the tray return points or centralised dishwashing stations.
It added: "We strongly urge members of the public to follow the advice of our (ambassadors) to keep our public eating places clean and safe."
Used tissue paper or wet wipes - which Mr Masagos had previously described as being "little biohazards" - can be contaminated, as they are often used to cover a person's nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, or to wipe respiratory discharge and sputum.
Contact with such contaminated droplets is considered the primary way the coronavirus is transmitted from an infected person to others.
"When used tissues or wet wipes are left around, they can pose a risk to others who touch them directly, or who touch the surfaces where they were placed," said the agency.
By disposing them as well as used crockery and trays, the risk of transmission to cleaners is minimised, making their jobs easier. It also improves public hygiene, it added.
The NEA urged people to make these good habits "a way of life beyond Covid-19 to help reduce risks to public health".
Clean public toilets are another key aspect of public health, it said.
In eating establishments, clean toilets help to ensure food hygiene is not compromised.
To this end, the NEA will introduce a toilet improvement programme for coffee shops and hawker centres with ageing infrastructure.
They will get co-funding to refresh the designs of older toilets and speed up the adoption of new technologies and productivity measures to make it easier to clean and maintain the toilets, the agency said.
The programme will also factor in downstream operations and maintenance issues.
More details will be given later this year.
The NEA noted that on April 1, stiffer penalties were introduced for lapses in public toilet cleanliness.
Failure to provide basic amenities such as soap or toilet paper, or to keep the toilet clean, carries a fine of up to $400 for the first offence and $500 for subsequent offences.
Under the Environmental Public Health Act, a maximum fine of between $2,000 and $5,000 can be imposed on those responsible for insufficient basic amenities and unclean toilets in food and non-food establishments.
Said the NEA: "These (public hygiene and cleanliness) habits must be sustained as a way of life beyond Covid-19 to help reduce risks to public health."