SINGAPORE: The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and the Changi Airport Group (CAG) will set aside S$15 million to help airport workers adjust to enhanced safety measures put in place after more than 100 COVID-19 cases were linked to the airport last month.
About 5,000 workers will benefit from the S$15 million, which will be used to provide a monthly special allowance and cater meals for workers for six months, as well as defray the cost of personal protective equipment, they said.
Last month Changi Airport became Singapore’s largest active COVID-19 cluster, with more than 100 cases, with CAAS and CAG saying at the time that preliminary investigations suggested that the initial transmission could have occurred through an airport worker who was "assisting a family from South Asia".
Subsequently Changi Airport’s passenger terminals, as well as entertainment and retail complex Jewel, were closed to the public, while additional COVID-19 testing was introduced for arrivals from 'very high-risk' countries and regions.
In a media release on Friday (Jun 11), CAAS and CAG said there have not been any new COVID-19 positive cases involving airport workers since May 20.
“Of the 43 airport workers who had tested positive, 42 have been discharged and the remaining worker is recovering in a hospital general ward without oxygen supplementation,” they said.
They added that they have been working closely with the Health Ministry and the airport community to “review and strengthen Changi Airport's defences against the more transmissible COVID-19 variants”.
Enhanced safety measures have been implemented to protect airport workers, travellers and the public, they said.
“Cohorting arrangements for airport workers have been tightened through a zonal system to reduce the risk of cross infection,” they said.
“In particular, airport workers in the passenger terminal piers, arrival immigration halls and baggage claim halls who have interactions with arriving and transfer passengers and therefore are at higher risk of exposure to the virus, are now required to remain in their work zone throughout their shift, including during their meal and rest times,” they said.
These workers are also required to be in “higher levels” of PPE throughout the duration of their shifts, except for meal and rest times.
Deep cleaning and disinfection of Changi Airport's passenger terminal buildings and Jewel Changi Airport have been completed, while an enhanced segregated zoning system announced last month has been implemented, said CAAS and CAG.
READ: Changi Airport terminals and Jewel to remain closed to public; additional COVID-19 testing for 'very high-risk' arrivals
“Airport workers have been briefed and trained on the new measures and requirements, to allow the new measures and safety protocols to be implemented smoothly,” they said, noting there would also be regular reminders, checks and audits on health safety as an “added safeguard”.
“The safety of our airport workers remains our top priority. We are therefore supportive of the tightened measures to ensure they are protected in the course of their work,” said National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong.
“Our unions will continue to work closely with the relevant stakeholders to mitigate any impact on them, and to ensure their wellbeing is taken care of,” she added.
JEWEL TO REOPEN ON JUN 14
Jewel, which has been closed to the public since May 13, will reopen on Jun 14.
Changi Airport's passenger terminals will remain closed to the public to allow the airport community to adapt to the new zoning measures, which require “significant operational adjustments”, said CAAS and CAG.
More details on the reopening of the passenger terminals will be released at a later date, they said.
Since May 23, airport workers in higher risk roles have had to take an additional antigen rapid test (ART) between their seven-day polymerase chain reaction-based rostered routine tests.
CAG and CAAS said that since Jun 3, it has been testing the use of the TracieX breathalyser, which allows workers to blow into a disposable breathalyser fitted with a proprietary sensor chip instead of undergoing an ART.
TracieX was given provisional authorisation by the Health Sciences Authority on May 27.
“The breathalyser will then be inserted into a portable reading device for vibrational spectroscopy analysis, which will be able to tell if a person is infected with COVID-19 within two minutes,” said CAG and CAAS.
This will allow workers to receive their results faster than with the current ART, they said, adding that workers would also experience less discomfort as the test is non-invasive.
Commentary: Targeted travel restrictions needed but careful not to undermine Changi Airport's connectivity
“We aim to progressively replace the ART for more airport workers with the TracieX breathalyser in the coming months. This will also allow us to step up the frequency of testing so that we can more quickly detect, isolate and treat any potential COVID-19 cases in the airport community,” they said.
Transport Minister S Iswaran, who visited Changi Airport on Friday, described the new breathalyser test as a “potential game changer” due to its method of administration.
“We will gradually be scaling up the use of this breathalyser to validate its efficacy, and to be able to then scale up its use for a much wider range of workers,” he said, noting workers had told him the new test was a welcome alternative to the more invasive PCR and ART tests.
When asked about comments made by South Korean authorities that the country planned to expedite travel bubble plans with Singapore, Mr Iswaran said Singapore was “engaging in dialogue with many potential partners”.
To allow for cross-border travel, key elements - such as mutual recognition of vaccinations and testing protocols - need to be in place, he said.
Meanwhile the enhanced safety measures allow the airport to adapt more quickly to emerging risks, he said, describing these measures as an important part of Singapore's "overall posture towards a calibrated and safe reopening of travel".
“Once we have those elements in place then, at the appropriate time, when the ambient conditions are there, we can then activate that plan and mobilise the airlines and other partners to facilitate the kind of cross-border travel that we want to achieve.”