17 years after SARS, this quarantine order agent is back on the frontline battling COVID-19
SINGAPORE: When he was deployed by Certis during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, Sergeant (Auxiliary Police Force) Gogulakanan Govindasamy was a 26-year-old bachelor who wanted to make a difference.
Seventeen years later, he is a married man with three children, but his desire to help out in a crisis has not waned.
"Now people are more cooperative and understanding. They understand what a quarantine is and know what the purpose of a quarantine is," said SGT (APF) Gogulakanan, who is a quarantine order agent.
"During the SARS period, there was less awareness - they didn't know what a quarantine was."
The SARS outbreak saw 238 cases in Singapore, with 33 deaths.
"Back then, I was a bachelor, so I didn't have to ask anybody's approval and I just did whatever I wanted. Now I need to explain things to my wife," said SGT (APF) Gogulakanan.
"When I explained to her, she took it as normal. She told me not to waste my previous experience (and) just go ahead. She gave me the green light, but also told me to take more precautions as I have kids. She said that by doing this, you can help people.
"My family supports me. They know I can do it because I was involved in the SARS operations and it was successful."
As part of his role as a quarantine order agent, SGT (APF) Gogulakanan visits homes to serve quarantine orders to individuals. He also assesses the suitability of an individual's home for quarantine. A room with an en suite bathroom is required.
If this condition is not met, quarantine order agent such as SGT (APF) Gogulakanan could be required to help transfer the person to a government quarantine facility. Agents are also required to perform regular home visits to ensure individuals do not defy the quarantine order.
When he visits homes, SGT (APF) Gogulakanan makes sure to explain the reason behind the quarantine order - the tone as well as the body language of the quarantine order agent is very important, he stressed.
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"We will explain in detail what the quarantine means and if they breach the quarantine order, what will happen," he said. "When we serve the quarantine orders, it's not to penalise them ... Sometimes they are fearful, but I have to go and comfort them and explain to them that I am there to help.
"Sometimes at first when we knock on the door and they see this person who looks like a policeman, you can see their face (change) ... At the end of the day when I am leaving, they will be very nice to me and say: 'Take care officer.'"
SGT (APF) Gogulakanan's work also involves escorting those under quarantine who are unwell to hospital in an ambulance.
Evidently, the work of a quarantine order agent is not without risk. Just last month, a Certis employee who served quarantine orders on two people from Wuhan contracted the coronavirus.
But measures to safeguard staff are already in place, said Certis.
These include a centralised laundry service for agents' uniforms as part of the disinfection process, compulsory decontamination procedures after duties such as a shower as well as temperature-taking when quarantine order agents return to the Certis headquarters.
Before entering a home to serve a quarantine order, the agent will put on their gloves and mask. This posture is in line with MOH guidelines, said Certis. Should the individual be identified by the MOH as a "high suspect case", the quarantine order agent will also don a surgical gown.
As such, SGT (APF) Gogulakanan is not perturbed.
"My confidence in my team and my company overcomes my fear. That helps motivate me," he said. "Certis and our department are well-organised and well-prepared."