S'pore authorities working with hotels to provide housing for shunned healthcare staff

Such incidents of discrimination have emerged after a growing cluster of Covid-19 cases formed at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Such incidents of discrimination have emerged after a growing cluster of Covid-19 cases formed at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health and the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 have been working together with hospitals here to support healthcare workers, including Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) staff, who have been shunned by Singaporeans, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (May 11).

Responding in Parliament to a question from Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), who said he had heard of TTSH nurses who have been asked by their landlords to move out at short notice, or other healthcare staff who cannot find a taxi after their shift ends, Mr Gan said that this is a "very worrisome trend".

"We are struggling because, on one hand, we know this is wrong, we should not condone such actions, but on the other hand, we are concerned about the well-being of the healthcare workers and we do need to find ways to help them and support them," he said.

Such incidents of discrimination have emerged after a growing cluster of Covid-19 cases formed at the hospital last month. There are now 43 cases in the cluster, including 10 healthcare staff and 26 patients.

The authorities and the hospitals are making arrangements with hotels and accommodation providers to provide alternatives to affected healthcare workers, said Mr Gan.

But the Government still prefers to encourage landlords to understand the situation, and play their part in supporting healthcare staff's work, he added.

"This should not be an excuse for the landlords to kick them out on the basis that since now there's alternative accommodation, why not just move over to the hotels rather than staying on in the flat," he said.

"I also want to urge Singaporeans to also show their support to these healthcare workers because they are putting themselves in harm's way in order to protect us," added the minister.

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that it had been distressing to see how staff at TTSH have faced discrimination by members of the public.

"People are understandably fearful, but it is no less distressing to see," he said in a Facebook post.

"For a year plus, all of us have been fighting Covid-19 in one way or another, and because we all worked together, our situation has steadily improved.

"We cannot let setbacks divide us or wear us down, because if we lose our unity, the virus has won."

But PM Lee noted in his post that there have also been recent instances of public support being shown to TTSH staff, including businesses that have offered promotions to support them.

On Tuesday, TTSH said on Facebook that its staff were greeted with a banner placed at its driveway, which expressed support for TTSH staff and patients. It bore words in Chinese that read "with our hands and heart, we'll forge ahead, together".

"To our silent supporters who took the time to prepare this banner, we are touched by your efforts, and we thank you for thinking of us," said the hospital.

"And to everyone who has been rooting for us from wherever you are - our on-campus and neighbouring retail partners, private-hire and taxi drivers and all our other friends across the island - you keep us going."