Singapore hotel employee on his life as a safe distancing ambassador

Mr Adrian Goh, who had been in the hotel industry for 12 years, is now a safe distancing ambassador.
Mr Adrian Goh, who had been in the hotel industry for 12 years, is now a safe distancing ambassador.ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

SINGAPORE - When Mr Adrian Goh, 42, approaches a coffee shop, cries of "coming, coming" will echo through the streets.

When he arrives, he would find stallholders masked up. Those queueing for food would also be spaced out neatly, a metre apart.

Mr Goh, who had been in the hotel industry for 12 years, is now a safe distancing ambassador (SDA) - one of about 3,000 SDAs employed islandwide.

These ambassadors - usually wearing red but sometimes also in civilian clothes - have the unenviable task of making sure people obey the prevailing Covid-19 regulations.

They cannot issue fines, but instead take on a role similar to that of school prefects - their presence serves to remind people that their behaviour is being monitored and they cannot flout the rules with impunity.

Mr Goh has a regular circuit that takes him through residential areas and coffee shops in Eunos, Aljunied, Geylang, Paya Lebar and Marine Parade. He has been at it since October last year, and is now a familiar face among those living and working in these areas.

He said his job has become easier with people now more aware of and compliant with Covid-19 rules, more than a year after the first case was reported here last January.

This was not always the case, he told The Sunday Times.

"There is less room for debate now because everyone knows what is passable in public. Previously, there were grey areas here and there and things were more subject to interpretation," he said.

For example, some people would argue their masks were already on when they did not cover their noses. In other cases, groups were too close to other groups, and were unhappy when told to keep apart.

Mr Goh is the assistant director of sales and marketing at Hotel Grand Pacific in Bugis.

The sudden downturn in global tourism last year led to about 10 hotel employees - including chefs - seconded out as SDAs.

Previously ensconced in the comfort of his office, Mr Goh now walks under the scorching sun from 7am to 3pm, or 12.30pm to 9pm. "The hotel sees it as a way to save as many jobs as possible instead of laying people off. They needed us to do it to supplement our wages," said Mr Goh, whose income has been shaved between 10 per cent and 20 per cent.

As an SDA, he has encountered incidents both humorous and unpleasant.

Once, while telling a chicken rice stall owner to wear his mask, an older woman started muttering in Hokkien and banging the table while staring daggers at him. He decided to leave to avoid conflict.

Mr Goh said: "Sometimes people think we work for the Government and that we issue fines, and react accordingly. They will question why we are making life difficult when business is already so bad.

"Our role is a purely advisory one. I try to let them know I'm also struggling and we are in the same boat. If everyone follows the rules, things can go back to normal and I can go back to the hotel too."

Another stall owner he tried to get to put on his mask insisted he was drinking coffee when there were no drinks around him.

He then poured himself a drink to avoid putting on his mask.

Mr Goh said: "Sometimes, we also need to know when to back off. Most ugly incidents can be avoided if handled in a tactful way.

"If we take it upon ourselves to insist people behave in a certain way, it will rub them up the wrong way."

The official advice SDAs receive in their training is to make a report to the National Environment Agency or Singapore Food Agency if people are uncooperative.

Mr Goh lives with his elderly parents and his grandmother. In case he gets exposed to the coronavirus, he makes sure to take a shower once he gets home.

He said his biggest concern is not knowing if the hotel industry will survive. He said: "We are all living month by month. Let's hope it will return to normal soon."


Cases of assault

The job of a safe distancing ambassador can be a risky one as seen in these cases:

STABBED

A National Parks Board officer was stabbed in the chest last May after telling a mask-less man, who was cutting plants illegally at Sungei Serangoon Park Connector, to mask up.

The 61-year-old man was charged with attempted murder.

He allegedly fled the scene after the incident on his bicycle, before the police arrived.

He was arrested within 11/2 hours.

The officer had injuries to his chest, arm and hand and underwent surgery.

SHOVED

Last June, two safe distancing ambassadors were advising a group of food delivery riders to keep a safe distance from one another at Compass One mall in Sengkang when another man, who was not part of the group, allegedly pushed one of the ambassadors.

When the other ambassador tried to intervene, the man turned around and allegedly assaulted him. The man was later arrested.

HIT ON HAND

A 39-year-old man was charged after he allegedly hit a safe distancing ambassador's hand, causing her phone to drop, when told not to loiter during the circuit breaker period.

The police were alerted to the dispute and went to the scene at Hougang Avenue 8.

But the man had fled.

He was arrested five days later on April 17, and charged with using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging her duty.