COVID-19: PAP says will adjust ground outreach activities, as opposition parties put them on hold

COVID-19: PAP says will adjust ground outreach activities, as opposition parties put them on hold

chee hong tat
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat was present on Jun 4, 2019 during a walkabout organised to showcase the progress of HECS in Ang Mo Kio. (Photo: Corine Tiah)

SINGAPORE: The People's Action Party (PAP) will tweak ground outreach activities to comply with more stringent safety distancing requirements due to COVID-19.

"The People’s Action Party will abide by the guidelines that the taskforce has imposed and make adjustments to its usual outreach activities," a party spokesperson told CNA on Friday (Mar 27).

"This would include exploring different formats for our upcoming activities when necessary."

Authorities have announced that from Friday, gatherings outside school and work will be limited to a maximum of 10 people, in the latest measure to curb the outbreak. People should still observe a safe distance of 1m from each other.

Political parties have been implementing precautionary measures during outreach, like not shaking hands and entering people's homes.

READ: COVID-19 temporary measures: Gatherings outside of school and work limited to 10 people, entertainment venues to close

On Thursday, the Workers' Party (WP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Singapore People's Party (SPP) and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) announced they would suspend activities like house visits and walkabouts in light of the worsening outbreak.

Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng had also posted on Facebook that MPs in the constituency will do the same to protect residents' health and safety.

"Please remember that safe distancing is a personal responsibility and, if done collectively and stringently, will enable the safety of our families and fellow Singaporeans," he wrote.

"If you need any help during this period, visit us at our meet-the-people session (MPS) or email us. The necessary precautionary measures will be taken during our MPS."

Ang Mo Kio MP Ang Hin Kee told CNA on Friday he has suspended such activities in his Cheng San-Seletar ward a week ago to avoid congregation and any potential transmission of the virus.

"MPS will continue, but we are doing it outdoor at the void decks with safe distancing," he said, noting that only 10 people can be there at once. "We've been recommending people to send queries online if they have the option."

The WP said it would temporarily suspend all house visits in light of "stringent social distancing measures and the spike in COVID-19 cases".

MPs and town councillors will continue to inspect estates and serve residents' needs with the help of one or two people, it said, adding that other WP members will walk the ground "with this directive in mind".

SDP said it would stop house visits and walkabouts until further notice and resume them when circumstances permit, while PSP told CNA it would suspend all outreach activities for now.

"Clear guidelines on how we should conduct our activities when we resume will be communicated to all our members," PSP said.

SPP chairman Jose Raymond told CNA his team has stopped knocking on doors and has not planned major community-based events during this period in Potong Pasir.

SOME MPs PRESS ON

Despite that, some MPs are pressing ahead with ground outreach activities, albeit with precautionary measures in place.

Mr Zainal Sapari of Pasir Ris-Punggol, Singapore's largest GRC by voters, told CNA he and the other MPs are still discussing whether to suspend the activities.

"I think there is still some value for us to do very targeted house visits to help vulnerable families," he said, adding that he still needs to visit some families to get their approval for lift upgrading.

"But we won't be doing the common type when we visit every unit in each block."

READ: COVID-19: MPs and political parties implement precautionary measures during community outreach

Mr Zainal said the MPs might also continue with their "important" market visits in smaller groups.

"I notice when I do market visits, I have residents approaching me to voice concerns or give feedback," he stated. "Of course, when we talk with residents, we have to ensure we maintain that social distance."

The labour MP said residents have been receptive to the latest safety distancing measures, explaining that they are not offended when he's had to turn down handshakes.

Even if the MPs decide to stop ground activities, Mr Zainal said staff would still be able to reach out to residents through group messages on Telegram.

"I have asked respective residents' networks to broadcast if there's any dengue or crime alert very specific to those areas," he added. "On most of my house visits, I work with my residents' network to subscribe to this Telegram channel."

PARTIES EXPLORE ALTERNATIVES

When it comes to MPS, Mr Zainal said he is mulling over the idea of asking residents to leave their mobile numbers and particulars so volunteers can call them back.

"So, you really don't have to be at the MPS," he said, explaining that this would reduce large crowds and long waiting times. 

zainal sapari parliament
MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari speaking in Parliament on May 15.

Mr Ang said his team has identified families in need and have volunteers leave items like groceries, food and hand sanitiser on their doorsteps.

"We also work with volunteer welfare organisations to do some of these low-contact, low-engagement home deliveries," he added.

The WP said it remains contactable via all its digital platforms and emails, while SPP's Mr Raymond said most Potong Pasir residents have his number and are aware that "my lines are always open".

WILL DOWNTIME AFFECT EXPOSURE?

As for whether suspending ground outreach could affect politicians' visibility at a time when a General Election could be called soon, Mr Ang said: "If you wait until now to do engagement when you are the MP serving the area, it's a bit late right?"

This comes as Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Wednesday that it is unconstitutional to delay the election, which must be held by April 2021, even as it remains unknown how long the COVID-19 outbreak will last.

NDR Ang Hin Kee
MP Ang Hin Kee at the 2017 National Day Rally at ITE. (Photo: Howard Law)

Mr Ang said programmes to help residents have been ongoing, adding that residents look for more than just visibility on the ground.

"This includes things like lifts for overhead bridges, linkways, silver zones, helping the needy and vulnerable," he added. "Your initiatives, Parliament debates, proposals and engagements with different communities."

Mr Zainal said he has been engaging residents to get their sentiment and reassure them during the current turbulent times, "not specifically for the coming General Election".

"You won't find me going around distributing party flyers," he said. "We won't be doing that."

During house visits, Mr Zainal said he tries to get residents' views on whether companies were in favour of them working from home.

"That type of messaging is really to make sure that under the current COVID-19 crisis, we as MPs are getting a ground sensing of whether we are taking the right or wrong steps," he added.

Source: CNA/hz

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