No evidence of Covid-19 clusters at bus interchanges spreading virus to commuters: Iswaran

Transport Minister S Iswaran said the priority now is to ensure that both transport workers and commuters are safe, and that the public transport system continues to function.
Transport Minister S Iswaran said the priority now is to ensure that both transport workers and commuters are safe, and that the public transport system continues to function.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There is currently no evidence that Covid-19 clusters in bus interchanges have resulted in spreading the virus to commuters, said Transport Minister S. Iswaran on Friday (Sept 3).

"The experts have said that there is no evidence of any spread to commuters but we will continue to make sure we observe all the safeguards that have been put in place," said Mr Iswaran.

"If there is a need to do more, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will work with public transport operators to do so."

Mr Iswaran was speaking to the media on the sidelines of Land Transport Industry Day at the LTA office in Bedok.

He said the priority now is to ensure that both transport workers and commuters are safe, and that the public transport system continues to function.

As at Wednesday, 314 cases - including 284 bus drivers and service staff at bus interchanges - have been reported. The rest are their household contacts and members of the public.

The bus depot clusters grew to 341 cases on Thursday.

On how the drivers could have been infected, Mr Iswaran said medical experts are still studying the issue.

"It's plausible that they may have contracted (the virus) from the community, but at the same time, it is also the case that there could have been some spread at the workplace because of the fact that they come together for certain types of activities," Mr Iswaran added.

He said there is no major impact on bus services as of now.

"This is something... we are tracking very closely, because we need to make sure that the bus captains are well enough to do their job and do it safely."

He also said that there has to be a balance between the welfare of the drivers and public health when tightening the safeguards in place at the bus interchanges.

Several new measures to reduce the risk of transmission at bus interchanges were announced by the Land Transport Authority on Thursday.

Staff resting and dining areas in all public bus interchanges have been segregated, with only one staff member allowed to sit at each table to dine.

For instance, at Tampines Concourse bus interchange, the restrictions mean only 10 staff will be able to dine in each time.

To more quickly pick up cases of infection, bus drivers and staff manning service counters in bus interchanges will also have to undergo routine testing at least once a week from Thursday.

Before this, transport operators conducted antigen rapid tests (ART) mostly on an ad hoc basis at bus interchanges on a portion of staff. All staff at a particular interchange were then required to take ARTs when a positive case surfaced. Those who subsequently tested positive or whose results were inconclusive were sent for further polymerase chain reaction swabs.

The tightened measures that cover more than 11,000 front-line staff in the bus sector were put in place in the wake of growing Covid-19 clusters at eight public bus interchanges here - Toa Payoh, Boon Lay, Punggol, Jurong East, Bishan, Sengkang, Tampines and Clementi.