Coronavirus: Singapore firms ramp up efforts to contain spread of virus

Workplaces introduce split operations and temperature screening for staff and visitors

People queueing to get their temperatures taken at One Raffles Place yesterday. Snaking queues were seen at places like Raffles Place and Suntec City as temperature checks and visitor screening were carried out.
People queueing to get their temperatures taken at One Raffles Place yesterday. Snaking queues were seen at places like Raffles Place and Suntec City as temperature checks and visitor screening were carried out.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Singapore firms and building managers are ramping up their efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus as the country entered its first work week since the outbreak response level turned to code orange last Friday.

There were snaking queues at some offices and empty desks in others yesterday, as measures like temperature screening and split operations kicked in at several workplaces - with more expected to take similar steps to stem the spread of the disease, which has since infected 45 people here.

The Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation had last week advised employers to step up business continuity plans and prepare for widespread community transmission. These plans include having people cover one another to minimise disruption.

Under the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition, or Dorscon, code orange indicates a moderate to high public health impact, requiring organisers to cancel or defer non-essential large-scale events and conduct temperature screening for group events.

Tighter temperature and visitor screening measures at places like Suntec City and Raffles Place caused long queues. APM Property Management, which manages Suntec City, said it intends to streamline the process in the coming days.

Mr Aloysius Cheang, a director at the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, a United States-based non-profit entity, suggested visitors have their temperatures taken in a separate queue. "Office staff can take their temperature at their office entrance, with the daily readings sent to the security office for filing," he added.

At the same time, employees have started working from split sites, from home and on split shifts - as companies deal with the increasing risk of infection.

Organisations in critical service sectors such as banks and telcos, and those serving military contracts, such as ST Engineering, have implemented the strictest measures.

United Overseas Bank, for instance, has distributed its teams for all critical operations, including technology, contact centre and trading and treasury, across its five buildings in Singapore.


"This will ensure all banking services remain operational and secure," the bank said.

While banks and telcos' service centres remain open, and manned by front-line staff, internal meetings are held using conferencing apps. For home-based workers, many said they are prepared to do this over the long term if necessary.

Mr Jeff Cheong, deputy president of creative and technology agency DDB Group Singapore, said: "We're prepared... The only thing is we will have sore fingers from the rapid typing in multiple group chats."

Should there be widespread community transmission, the Public Service Division said that it will split its workforce and assign workers to different office locations. For cross-agency meetings, it is also exploring the use of Skype to hold virtual meetings to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

The enhanced measures in Singapore come as China started easing some of its restrictions and some workers began heading back to work. The authorities had told businesses to add on up to 10 days to the Chinese New Year holidays.

As of yesterday, 40,171 infections have been confirmed nationwide in China, with deaths totalling more than 900, mostly in Wuhan, where the outbreak started.

• Additional reporting by Yip Wai Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore firms ramp up efforts to contain spread of virus'. Subscribe