Help for those under quarantine to get their groceries

(From left) Sean Tan, Assistant General Manager (Regional Services) Social Service Office @ Chua Chu Kang/Bukit Batok/Bukit Panjang; William Oh, Constituency Director, Zhenghua Constituency Office.
(From left) Sean Tan, Assistant General Manager (Regional Services) Social Service Office @ Chua Chu Kang/Bukit Batok/Bukit Panjang; William Oh, Constituency Director, Zhenghua Constituency Office.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Shoppers at the NTUC Fairprice supermarket at 475 Tampines Street 44 on March 17, 2020.
Shoppers at the NTUC Fairprice supermarket at 475 Tampines Street 44 on March 17, 2020.ST PHOTO: MARCELLIN LOPEZ

Food supplies were running low for Mr A, 64, his wife, 58, and their one-year-old grandchild who lived with them. Under quarantine in their Bukit Panjang home after one of the couple's adult children contracted Covid-19, they could not leave home to buy groceries.

To make matters worse, other relatives were also quarantined and could not help them. Not being tech-savvy, the couple - who are not named to protect their identities - did not know how to order what they needed online.

With their family unable to help, they turned to the authorities. The Ministry of Health (MOH) connected them to the social service office (SSO) in Bukit Panjang, which worked with the local Zhenghua constituency office to make sure the family would not go hungry.

The SSO's assistant general manager Sean Tan, 40, told The Sunday Times that while SSOs generally administer financial aid from the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) ComCare schemes, they also work with other government agencies and community partners, including the People's Association (PA), when other sorts of help are called for.

In this case, the SSO asked Zhenghua constituency director William Oh and his team to purchase the things that Mr and Mrs A needed. Mr Oh himself delivered the groceries, including rice, bread, eggs, fruit, vegetables, meat and toiletries, to the couple on Feb 18, the day after the SSO knew of their plight.

"I checked in a few times after that. Mrs A was concerned that there were a lot of things to buy, but I told her it was not an issue, and it is the minimum we can do to provide help," said Mr Oh.

Now done with the quarantine, Mrs A said her family was touched by the SSO staff's "warm and caring, yet professional approach", as well as thankful to the PA staff who helped to buy a "long list" of items.

Help requested from the authorities has increased since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported on Jan 23, whether from people under quarantine or serving stay-home notices, or those suffering as a result of the economic fallout from the outbreak.

Call operators for ComCare, the social assistance scheme, attended to 344 calls from people on the 14-day stay-home notice as at March 1, 10 of which were referred to SSOs. An MSF spokesman added on Friday that it received 10,887 ComCare applications in January and February, nearly 900 more than the 10,003 in the same period last year.

 
 
 

As the pandemic continues to evolve, so has the help given by agencies. Mr Oh said constituency events now focus on reminding people - especially seniors - about the need for hygiene and measures like social distancing. Activities for seniors have been cancelled, and other classes continue in reduced group sizes with precautions like temperature-taking.

Mr Tan said that while ComCare assistance through SSOs continues, supporting documents to get financial help can now be submitted online or through other means like WhatsApp, to reduce the need for residents to submit them in person.

Singapore citizens and permanent residents can call the ComCare hotline on 1800-222-0000 if they need help.

Tee Zhuo

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline 'Help for those under quarantine to get their groceries'. Subscribe