Grounded by COVID-19, these pilots and cabin crew now educate the public on safe distancing
SINGAPORE: Leonard Wang manoeuvres deftly through the small gaps between some stalls at Chong Pang Market with the ease of a seasoned professional.
On a normal day, the 33-year-old would be in the skies but on this particular Wednesday (Apr 8), he is grounded. Not that he seems to mind.
Used to facing rows of passenger seats on a flight, Wang sees rows of patrons at the market. Where he would serve food and drinks, he now dishes out leaflets aimed at educating the public on safe distancing requirements.
As the Jetstar crew turned SG Clean Ambassador makes his rounds, he is greeted by a variety of reactions.
Some stallholders instinctively shout at customers: “One metre, one metre”. A few patrons cast a wary eye at Mr Wang, shuffling their feet quickly when they realise they have not kept to the mandatory safe distance.
Others apologise profusely, while there are rare occasions where he is met with blank looks and brush-offs.
This is all in a day’s work for Mr Wang, who has been in this new role for all of a week.
“At the beginning, people were still trying to get used to it and trying to adapt,” he told CNA. “But now, people are getting used to it. They know that this is an important message that they must comply to."
READ: How F&B outlets, markets and food suppliers will operate amid COVID-19 'circuit breaker' measures
Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the strengthening of Singapore’s measures against COVID-19 amid concerns about escalating infections.
These measures included the closing all workplaces for a month between Apr 7 to May 4, except for those offering essential services, including the sale of health and food items.
Convenience stores, supermarkets, grocery and fruit stores, as well as wet and wholesale markets, are allowed to remain open.
And to ensure the observance of safe distancing in the heartlands for the duration of these elevated measures, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and other relevant agencies have been deploying more than 2000 enforcement officers and ambassadors such as Mr Wang.
Unlike the NEA enforcement officers, these ambassadors do not have the power of enforcement. The SG Clean Ambassador network compromises a mixture of volunteers and partners as well as recruited ambassadors.
Their role is to remind patrons in public places such as wet markets and hawker centres to comply with the elevated safe distancing measures and distributing fliers to educate the public.
At Chong Pang market, a limited number of patrons are allowed on the premises at a given point of time, explained Mr Wang. There is one main point of entry and all other exit points have been barricaded off.
To ensure, safe distancing is being adhered to, Mr Wang makes repeated rounds. NEA enforcement officers are also present.
“Because we wear the uniform (SG Clean Ambassador T-shirt) and have the lanyard, sometimes people wonder if we’re here to enforce things,” said Mr Wang. “We are not here to fine them, we are here to educate them and get the message (of safe distancing) across.”
While his new role seems a vastly different one from his full-time job, there are many transferable skills, explained Mr Wang.
“As cabin crew, you must not be afraid of people. You’ve got to be friendly to them, and know how to approach them,” he explained. “We’re always looking out for our passengers when on board, in terms of well-being, their needs, serving them. This applies here as well, because we need to let the public know about the rules and regulations."
Mr Wang was not the only Jetstar employee out and about on Wednesday. At a hawker centre in Toa Payoh, pilot Darren Wong, 32, made his rounds in the afternoon.
Things were much quieter here given the time of day. While there were one or two members of the public who loitered at the hawker centre, Mr Wong was quick to approach them to remind them that no eating in is allowed.
"Most of the public are pretty much receptive to the message, some are not aware, some are indifferent. However, that is what our role here is, to educate and inform them of what the measures are and try to reach out to the masses," he said.
"The skills required of us as a pilot are ... being able to give clear and concise communication between passengers, crew and air traffic control," said Mr Wong, who has been a pilot with Jetstar for four years.
"From that, I am able to use the communication skillset to bring the message of what NEA (National Environment Agency) wants to give to the public - basically to tell them what safe distancing is."
Close to half of Jetstar Asia’s crew and corporate team members have taken up roles with the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), NEA and Raffles Medical Group. These contracts are for a period of one to six months.
“This allows our crew the opportunity to work and support themselves, contribute to the community and also be ready to return to their full-time positions when we are ready to resume flying,” said the airline's CEO Bara Pasupathi in a media statement.
Currently, Jetstar Asia’s managers, including pilots such as Mr Wong, are on unpaid leave, while its cabin crew are on paid leave.
"As a pilot, I definitely want to go back to flying but the fact of the matter is that you can see the situation that is developing and how it is like. We can only just pray to see how everything develops and hopefully it dies off soon," he said.
When offered the opportunity to become an SG Clean Ambassador, Mr Wong said that he had no qualms coming on board.
"This definitely helps with tiding me over during that period," he said of the role, which is a salaried one. "However, I believe that since this is such a global issue that I have to do my small part in trying to spread the message of safe distancing, trying to prevent any transmission of the virus."