Precautionary measures to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, including shortening the duration of the event, were taken by the organiser of a seniors’ club anniversary dinner at the Bukit Batok Community Club on 7 Mar, said Bukit Batok SMC Member of Parliament Murali Pillai.
Mr Murali told TODAY on Sun (15 Mar) that he had asked Ong Chai, the chairman of the Bukit Batok Active Ageing Club Committee, regarding the matter several hours before the dinner began at 7pm.
He added that he had asked Mr Ong as to how the news of the cluster formed after a Chinese New Year gathering at SAFRA Jurong would influence the organiser’s decision to proceed with the dinner.
Mr Murali also told TODAY that Mr Ong — in addition to shortening the duration of the dinner by one and a half hours from the scheduled end time — had also advised those who have attended the SAFRA Jurong event to excuse themselves.
The dinner, which was attended by over 300 people including Mr Murali himself as an adviser to the Bukit Batok Grassroots Organisations, ended at 9pm instead of the originally scheduled 10.30pm.
“They tried their very best to balance the competing interests of maintaining safety and good health for our seniors … and also ensuring that they have an active social life,” said Mr Murali, adding that he appreciates the organiser’s decision to proceed with the dinner.
Murali Pillai should have advised organisers to cancel seniors’ club’s anniversary dinner, “should have thought of the people first”: SDP chief Chee Soon Juan
Mr Murali’s statement was made in relation to SDP chief Chee Soon Juan’s Facebook post yesterday, in which he questioned Mr Murali’s role as the Bukit Batok MP and leader of the community who “have advised the organisers to cancel the function”.
“Why did Mr Murali gather together, or allow to be gathered, a hall of the elderly at a time when the spread of Covid-19 is at its most critical?
“Note that the participants are seated close to one another and not practicing social distancing. And these are older people who are most vulnerable when it comes to such infection,” said Dr Chee.
He added that Mr Murali had “apparently learnt nothing from the surge of new infections coming from people who attended the dinner function at SAFRA Jurong” last month.
“If an outbreak were to occur as a result of this occasion, all the residents at Bt Batok, and beyond, would be put at risk. Mr Murali has some explaining to do,” said Dr Chee.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Murali also said that “it would be unfair to take into account facts that happened subsequently as these matters would not be within their knowledge at that material time” when “reviewing the reasonableness of AAC’s decision to proceed with the scaled-down dinner”.
“As a matter of fact, I spoke to Mr Ong Chai in the afternoon of 7 March 2020 before the dinner. He explained the organisers’ decision to proceed with the dinner and the additional steps that will be undertaken too. I understood his decision,” he added.
Mr Ong, in a statement via the Bukit Batok CC Active Ageing Club Facebook page the same day and which was referenced by Mr Murali above, listed the precautionary measures taken by the committee for the anniversary dinner to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which included:
• “Extending the tables beyond the original dining space to the courtyard to create more space between groups” in line with the social distancing measures advocated by the Government;
• “Serving spoons for each dish and nominating volunteers to do the serving for each table” instead of carrying out communal sharing with participants’ own utensils; and
• Scaling down the event.
He added that according to a People’s Association (PA) announcement on 11 Mar, “all senior-centric activities would be suspended for 14 days” following MOH’s announcement the same day to “reduce transmission to seniors”.
“Bukit Batok AAC has since stopped all the activities,” said Mr Ong.
Netizens question Murali Pillai’s reasoning on precautionary measures; point out such measures did not work for CNY gathering at SAFRA Jurong, currently the largest cluster in S’pore
The majority of netizens responding to Mr Murali’s comments, however, did not appear to be pacified by his explanation.
Many of the said netizens highlighted that similar precautionary measures were taken at the SAFRA Jurong gathering that took place on 16 Feb, but such measures have done little to prevent the spread of the virus as it became the largest cluster in Singapore to date.
Taking the temperature of guests or using a thermal scanner, for example, are not foolproof measures, as persons who were scanned may only be a carrier or may be asymptomatic at the time they were checked, said the netizens.
One netizen in particular said that holding the dinner “even after the SAFRA saga” was an “irresponsible” move and that the organiser could have opted to send takeaway food to the seniors as an alternative to the gathering.
Several netizens also pointed out that the organiser’s decision to continue with the dinner as scheduled runs contrary to the Government’s advice to avoid mass gatherings and to practice social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
One commenter drew attention to how places of worship in Singapore — where devotees often congregate in large numbers — were “ordered to close” down in fear of COVID-19 “and yet” the organisers of the Bukit Batok seniors’ club dinner were allowed to proceed with the event.
A few commenters said that the event would receive backlash of a greater scale had it been organised by an opposition party.
One commenter in particular did not seem fazed by Mr Murali’s response and made a reference to his purported handling of fire safety lapses at a Bukit Batok flat in Nov last year.
In a Facebook post on 15 Nov, Mr Murali said that he had learnt about the issues surrounding the access and deployment of firehose on the 13th floor while walking with the SCDF officers, and was “naturally concerned about both matters”.
He said he had “immediately” urged the SCDF officers to investigate these issues, and stressed that SCDF “took notice of the matter on the day of the fire incident itself” without “later owing to anyone else drawing attention to this matter”.
“I am clear in my mind that, as your elected representative, I am accountable to you for both issues. These incidents should not have happened and, for that, I must apologise,” said Mr Murali.
The MP assured that he will be working with his elected and appointed Town Councillors on a review of the present case, in addition to ensuring that the fire safety system is strengthened to ensure its reliability.
While he commended Mr Murali’s effort to be accountable for the issue at hand, Dr Chee suggested that it was his SDP team that had laid the groundwork in the process of investigating the root of the lapse in the relevant fire safety equipment.
“Taking the time and effort to do our homework (in this instance, talking to the BB residents, inspecting the fire equipment, and gathering feedback) allowed us to establish facts that the JCTC could not ignore or deny.
“Then came the probing and persistent questioning of the PAP MP and town council officials which resulted in the initial piecemeal release of information by JCTC but, finally, a full accounting by Mr Murali,” he said.
“This is the work of a responsible and effective opposition. Ultimately, it is the people who benefit,” he said, adding that it was crucial to hold Mr Murali’s “feet to the fire because of the gravity of the situation” without allowing the issue to “degenerate into a personal attack”.