Safe distancing ambassador uses tact to avoid ugly incidents

Job now easier with people more aware of and compliant with rules, he says

Mr Adrian Goh has been seconded from Hotel Grand Pacific as a safe distancing ambassador since October. He has a regular circuit that takes him through residential areas and coffee shops in Eunos, Aljunied, Geylang, Paya Lebar and Marine Parade, and
Mr Adrian Goh has been seconded from Hotel Grand Pacific as a safe distancing ambassador since October. He has a regular circuit that takes him through residential areas and coffee shops in Eunos, Aljunied, Geylang, Paya Lebar and Marine Parade, and is now a familiar face among people living and working in those areas.ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

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

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

Mr Goh, who has worked in the hotel industry for 12 years, is now a safe distancing ambassador - one of about 3,000 employed islandwide.

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

They cannot issue fines, but take on a role similar to that of school prefects. Their presence reminds 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 last October, and is now a familiar face among people living and working in those 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 Singapore reported its first coronavirus case in January last year.

This was not always the case, he noted. "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."

For example, there have been cases where people argued that their masks were already on when in fact the masks did not cover their noses. In other cases, groups were too close to other groups, and were unhappy when told to keep apart.

Previously ensconced in his office as assistant director of sales and marketing at Hotel Grand Pacific in Bugis, Mr Goh now walks under the scorching sun from 7am to 3pm, or from 12.30pm to 9pm.

The sudden downturn in global tourism last year led to about 10 of the hotel's employees - including chefs - seconded out as safe distancing ambassadors.

"The hotel sees it as a way to save as many jobs as possible instead of laying people off. It needed us to do it to supplement our wages," said Mr Goh, whose income has been shaved by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent.

  • 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.

    Clement Yong

As a safe distancing ambassador, he has encountered unpleasant incidents as well as humorous ones.

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.

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

"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 whom Mr Goh tried to get to put on a mask insisted he was drinking coffee when there were no drinks around him. The man 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 that safe distancing ambassadors get 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 grandmother. To minimise the risk of transmission in case he is exposed to the coronavirus, he takes a shower once he gets home.

His key concern is over whether the hotel industry will survive. "We are all living month by month. Let's hope it will return to normal soon."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2021, with the headline 'Safe distancing ambassador uses tact to avoid ugly incidents'. Subscribe