SINGAPORE: Taxi and private-hire drivers in Singapore are set to be issued with 300,000 masks that they can offer to passengers who are unwell, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA), as the country ramps up its defence against the global coronavirus outbreak.
From Tuesday (Feb 11), 300,000 surgical masks will be distributed to the drivers via their taxi and ride-hailing companies in packs of four, said LTA in a press release.
These masks are intended for drivers to offer to passengers who are unwell, but do not have a mask and need a ride to seek medical attention.
"Passengers should also play their part. In particular, passengers who are unwell are reminded to be socially responsible and don a mask, before their taxi or private-hire car ride," said LTA.
As part of precautionary measures, drivers have also been asked to take their temperature twice a day.
From Tuesday, eight temperature screening stations will be set up at the premises of the seven taxi companies here.
Taxi drivers whose temperatures fall within the acceptable range will receive a sticker for the day, to indicate that they are well.
Private-hire drivers will be required to take their own temperatures and submit their readings via the app.
The LTA, together with the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicle Association (NPHVA), will progressively increase the number of temperature screening stations in Singapore for all drivers, said LTA.
These measures come after a taxi driver and a private-hire car driver were among seven new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus announced on Saturday.
Neither had any known links to other cases.
The LTA said then that it was working with operators to ramp up cleaning and hygiene measures.
It also advised drivers to wind down their windows after trips to ventilate their vehicles, as well as clean and disinfect their cars more regularly.
Earlier this month, a care package was announced for both taxi and private-hire drivers who are quarantined due to the virus.
These drivers are eligible for a S$100 per day allowance from the Government during the time they are quarantined.
All taxi operators, as well as private-hire firms Gojek, Grab and Ryde, have said they will waive vehicle rental fees for quarantined drivers.
All taxi operators, as well as Gojek, Grab, Ryde and Tada, have also committed to a one-off allowance of at least S$100 for quarantined drivers.
Meanwhile, drivers who are members of either the NTA or the NPHVA are also eligible for a one-off allowance of S$200.
MEASURES AIMED AT RESTORING CONFIDENCE IN TAXIS, PRIVATE-HIRE CARS
On Monday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary met with about 60 taxi and private-hire drivers at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability, to discuss their concerns following the news of the two infected drivers.
Speaking to the media after the session, Dr Janil said drivers he spoke to were concerned about how to sustain their livelihoods in light of the current crisis.
The measures announced today are aimed at restoring confidence in the industry, he noted.
“Passengers need to find a way to be confident in the vehicle and driver that’s picking them up,” he said.
Noting reports of commuters finding it hard to get rides at locations such as hospitals, Dr Janil said it was understandable that drivers might feel anxious about picking up passengers who are unwell.
However, drivers should have no qualms ferrying passengers who are sick but wearing masks, he said.
“If there are nurses and healthcare workers that need to get home after a late night shift, I’ve asked (the drivers) to help us get these frontline workers home and have some rest,” he said.
Dr Janil also debunked reports that suggested the novel coronavirus was airborne, noting the Chinese government itself had said the virus was not airborne.
“All the evidence currently points to this virus being spread by droplets, not airborne, and that is what is determining the way we address it.”
He acknowledged that the measures announced could be abused, for example by drivers who claim the masks for themselves instead of giving them out to sick passengers.
“I think we have to accept in good faith that (drivers) will look after themselves and the people around them.”
While there are other broad-based financial measures in the works to protect the livelihoods of drivers, Dr Janil said it was premature to announce anything at this stage.
DRIVERS CONCERNED ABOUT GETTING INFECTED
Mr Harry Ng, 61, said his daily earnings had dropped about 20 per cent in the two weeks since the first coronavirus cases were announced here.
However, the impact was much worse during the SARS crisis in 2003, when passengers were few and far between, said the cabbie of 25 years.
Drivers are concerned about getting infected, as well as passing the infection down to their families, said NTA president Raymond Ong.
“The fear is there,” said the 60-year-old, who has been a taxi driver for 20 years.
Drivers are also hopeful that the Government can work together with taxi operators and the NTA to ease their financial burden during this period, for example by lowering the cost of renting their vehicles, said Mr Ong.
The drop in passenger numbers means some drivers struggle to cover costs such as rental and fuel, he noted.
In a statement, Mr Ang Hin Kee - who is advisor to both the NTA and the NPHVA - said the two associations were continuing to explore ways to assist drivers who are infected and quarantined with their expenses.
“We are also doing more to ensure that drivers at large are taken care of during this period so that they can continue to deliver safe and quality services to commuters,” he said.