From track to coronavirus front line, Khoo gets job done

Khoo Zhihao needs to be in full protective gear if he comes into contact with infected patients during his shift at the Clementi Sports Hall, which houses foreign workers who provide essential services and do not have Covid-19 symptoms. PHOTO: COURTE
Khoo Zhihao needs to be in full protective gear if he comes into contact with infected patients during his shift at the Clementi Sports Hall.PHOTO: COURTESY OF KHOO ZHIHAO

A typical work day for athletics coach Khoo Zhihao now sees the 36-year-old donning gloves, a surgical mask and face shield as he heads to Clementi Sports Hall to begin his eight-hour shift.

Two weeks ago, Khoo took on a temporary job as a venue ambassador at the facility, which is one of the sports venues used to house foreign workers who provide essential services and do not have Covid-19 symptoms.

In his new role, he manages a dormitory of 10 people and his duties include ensuring their well-being and addressing their concerns.

Khoo told the Straits Times that he had spent a month looking for alternative sources of income after the closure of public sports facilities and halt of sporting activities when the circuit breaker kicked in on April 7 to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

His hunt proved to be a challenge, as he sent out some 50 job applications - including one for a supermarket packer - to little success.

He eventually landed the venue ambassador role, which is one of the 500 temporary jobs created by national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) to help those whose livelihoods have been affected by the crisis.

While he now earns between $1,200 and $1,500 a month, a significant dip from the $2,000 to $2,500 he took home as a senior coach with an athletics club, Khoo is not complaining. "Everyone is worried about the loss of income, but worrying is one thing, what matters is what do you do after that? For me, it's about looking for a job that I think can put food on the table for the time being," said Khoo, who is single and lives with his mother.

He works four days a week on rotational shifts, and noted that his coaching experience has helped him communicate well with the foreign workers and his colleagues.

"It's just about getting to know them and seeing if we can help ... they are here and not with their families, so they would need someone to talk to," he added.

His biggest challenge has been overcoming language barriers with some of the workers who do not speak English.

"I would find someone in the same dorm to talk to them, otherwise I would try to keep the conversation simple, speak slowly and use hand gestures," he said.


Khoo has twice been activated to help move a worker who tested positive for Covid-19 to the isolation area. During those instances, he wore personal protective equipment and his surgical mask was replaced with an N95 mask.

He acknowledged that the nature of his job could increase the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, but he was not concerned.

"I think contributing and showing gratitude to the foreign workers for what they've done for Singapore outweighs concerns," said Khoo, who disinfects himself and showers before heading home.

"My mum was worried but I told her the safety measures in place are very (stringent) and there's nothing much to worry about, as long as these safety policies are followed strictly."

With the circuit breaker measures in place for two months and the National School Games suspended till after the June school holidays, freelance sports coaches, fitness instructors and others in the fraternity have been hit financially.

On March 30, SportSG announced that it would provide training opportunities for those affected by the crisis and that 500 temporary jobs would be created until the end of the year. Since then, some 400 positions have been filled.


Freelance dragon boat coach Linsay Tan took up a post as a human resources executive at SportSG on April 3, working from home to provide administrative support and monitoring recruitment portals.

Her work environment is very different, as she used to spend hours under the sun almost every day when coaching, which prompted her quip that she is "very fair now".

The 27-year-old added: "I'm happy because I'm learning a lot of things and I've been interested in human resources for a while, so I thought this is a good time to pick up new skill sets.

"I've adapted pretty fast, the only thing I'm really missing is the sun and paddling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2020, with the headline 'From track to virus front line, Khoo gets job done'. Print Edition | Subscribe