Most people wash their hands more than 3 times a day, soap still the 'gold standard': ST poll

Most respondents agreed that hand-washing with soap was still the "gold standard" for hygiene. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It has dragged on for more than a year. But despite the nation's weariness with the pandemic, at least Singaporeans appear to be still washing their hands properly.

Of the 53 people surveyed by The Straits Times on Monday (April 12), around three-quarters said that they have developed better hygiene habits over the past 12 months.

Their main reasons included the impact of public health campaigns and the fear of contracting Covid-19.

Almost all the respondents washed their hands more than three times a day, and had made a habit of doing so before meals and after returning home.

Madam Chua Yan Fang, 63, who works in merchandising, ensures that she keeps sanitiser on hand in case her hands get dirty throughout the day. "Especially at my age, I have children and grandchildren who visit me every week, so I must take care of myself and think for them too," she said.

Most respondents also agreed that hand-washing with soap was still the "gold standard" for hygiene.

A nurse who wanted to be known only as Ms Magdelene said she had been following the seven steps of hand-washing religiously for the past 35 years in her profession.

"I have a bedridden mother, and I won't attend to her until I've washed my hands... We must make it an everyday thing, regardless of the pandemic," she said.

Of the 53, 19 supplement their hand-washing regime with sanitiser for good measure, while 17 will sanitise their hands if it is inconvenient to wash them in a sink.

Professor William Chen, director of Nanyang Technological University's Food Science and Technology programme, said it is good practice to wash hands after touching any kind of surface, even if they appear to be clean.

"Try to keep your hands dry after washing, as microbes grow better in a wet environment," he said. To avoid cross-contamination, avoid touching the face even after hand-washing, he added.

However, some respondents have admitted that they have become more lax with personal hygiene, and wash their hands less frequently due to the dwindling number of cases in the community.

Student Olivia Lee, 19, said that she finds herself washing her hands a little less frequently than before, though she still ensures that she does so with soap before meals and whenever she returns home from a public place.

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Local pharmacy chain Guardian said that it has seen a "steady demand" for hand sanitisers and hand-washing products, though current demand has been slightly lower compared with April last year.

Mr James McCoy, director of commercial and operations at Guardian Health and Beauty, Singapore, said that he expects that the demand will be sustained throughout the year with many returning to work, as there will be more frequent commuting and dining out.

Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist at the Singapore Management University, said the "perceived seriousness" of the pandemic has made the public more cautious in keeping themselves safe.

"Hand washing is one easy way of doing so, and it gives us a sense of control as we are doing something pro-actively to keep Covid-19 at bay," she said.

However, she noted that some have continued to litter and spit despite advisories to keep public spaces clean.

"So perhaps we're deciding which norms to adhere to - hand washing protects ourselves, while spitting in public places affects others," she said.

Asked if such good hand hygiene habits are likely to persist even after the pandemic, Associate Professor Leong Chan-Hoong, at the Singapore University of Social Sciences Centre for Applied Research, said: "Washing our hands frequently makes us feel clean and comfortable, which is a positive reinforcement that many of us will continue to retain, making it one that sticks over time."

Additional reporting by Ariel Kok, Fang Yiyang, Sivakami Arunachalam and Yeo Shu Hui.

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