Coronavirus: Once shunned, healthcare workers now find it easier to hail ride home

Jaylyn Ong (left) and Candy Austria Quiambao are among 40,000 or so public healthcare personnel still commuting to work. PHOTO: ALEXANDRA HOSPITAL

SINGAPORE - Healthcare workers looking for a ride home after a long shift are finding it easier to do so than during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, when they were widely shunned.

GrabCare, a service started in February by ride-hailing firm Grab to address a reluctance among drivers to pick up healthcare workers for fear of infection, has grown significantly.

The number of drivers who signed up has shot up from 2,000, when the dedicated service was launched in early February, to 10,000 this month - or an estimated 50 per cent of its driver pool.

From March 2-29, Grab offered these drivers a 100 per cent rebate on the commission the company charges for each ride. And since March 30, the rebate was reduced to 25 per cent.

While Grab would not reveal the number of rides taken via GrabCare, The Straits Times understands that demand for the service is now 10 times what it was in February, with a cater rate of more than 90 per cent (meaning at least nine in 10 who book a ride gets one).

Observers said this could be partly because overall demand has plunged because of the stay-home measures in place.

A Grab spokesman said GrabCare now covers 14 hospitals, up from the initial one (National Centre for Infectious Disease).

"We are working to roll it out to more hospitals, and will also start the second phase of the service soon, which is to pick up healthcare workers from home," he said.

Alexandra Hospital, where 35 per cent of its staff has signed up for GrabCare, said the service is especially helpful to those who work late shifts.

Ms Candy Austria Quiambao, 38, who works a permanent 8pm-8am shift as a medical laboratory technologist at the hospital, said: "I am just so beat at the end of my shift, I want to get home quickly to catch some sleep before reporting to work again in the same evening."

Ms Quiambao said her workload has increased since the outbreak. She tests both suspected and confirmed Covid-19 cases, on top of routine cases from non-Covid-19 patients. As of Wednesday (April 15), Alexandra Hospital has cared for 99 confirmed Covid-19 patients, and done 1,300 swabs to test for the virus.

Ms Jaylyn Ong, 25, a patient service associate at the hospital who uses a walking aid because of a childhood injury, relies on private-hire cars when she is tired.

"I remember in the earlier days of the outbreak, there was once when I sat down inside an MRT in my uniform after my shift, the passenger next to me immediately got up to stand away," she said. "That hurt a bit."

Ms Ong's work involves talking to patients' next of kin about financial, admission and administrative matters. She also goes on rounds to visit patients at their bedside.

She and Ms Quiambao are among 40,000 or so public healthcare personnel who are still commuting to work.

Various quarters have extended assistance to these front-line workers. Community Foundation of Singapore has distributed 50,000 taxi vouchers worth $250,000 to 11 hospitals and 21 polyclinics.

Taxi operator ComfortDelGro is offering promotion codes, with three hospitals, one community hospital and six polyclinics in the west receiving $10,000 worth of such codes. Ride-hailing firm Gojek is also offering some $80,000 worth of similar promo codes. Promo codes essentially translate to discounted fares.

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