From 13 June onwards, Changi Airport staff will be segregated based on their COVID-19 exposure risk and only those who have been vaccinated will be allowed to work in high-risk zones, the airport announced on Monday (24 May).
Changi Airport is an active COVID-19 cluster in Singapore, which has 108 cases as of Sunday. It was reported that a worker who assisted a family from South Asia last month could have been the source of the infection which led to 43 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, said Changi Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) last Friday.
Based on the new segregation plans, all the terminals will be divided into three zones. There will also no mixing around with those working in Zone 1 – the highest risk area – and those in other zones during shifts, said Chang Airport in a press release.
The 4,400 staff working in Zone 1, which includes those stationed at terminal piers, the arrival immigration hall and baggage claim hall, will be protected “in the highest-level PPE”.
If that’s not all, only workers who have been vaccinated will be deployed to Zone 1. Changi Airport noted that it plans to have more than 90 percent of workers in Zone 2 and Zone 3 to be vaccinated “in the coming weeks”.
Travellers arriving from very high-risk countries will be guided to Terminal 2, which has been closed since 1 May last year, for immigration clearance. Following that, they will be sent directly to their quarantine centre via a bus.
Following advices from infectious disease experts, the airport asserted that it has implemented “many layers of stringent protocols” and these measures have “served us well” in the last 15 months, said Changi Airport Group CEO Lee Seow Hiang.
However, things took a different turn with B1617, a variant of COVID-19 first found in India.
“It penetrated our defences and caused a community outbreak,” Mr Lee said to the media on Monday.
He added, “We now know clearly where the primary source of infection originated from. So together with our airport partners, we’ve been busy rethinking, reinventing our operational processes.”
When the new protocols come into effect on 13 June, the airport will be able to ringfence travellers arriving in the high-risk zone.
“In so doing, we will safeguard the safety of all our airport workers as well as Singaporeans at large,” Mr Lee explained.
Primary location for COVID-19 cases is in Zone 1
Among the cases detected at Changi Airport, 23 of them were working in Zone 1, with their work locations scattered across the entire zone, airport officials said in a media briefing.
“This suggests that Zone 1 was the primary zone where the infection happened,” they said, adding that other zones were “relatively clean”.
Additionally, investigations also revealed that there were cases form a “very specific cluster” at the extreme left wing of a transit area, which is not part of Zone 2. The infection happened due to mingling of staff between Zone 1 and Zone 2.
“So, we believe that this cluster was a secondary source of infection that came from Zone 1… because the numbers are much smaller. If this zone was inherently ‘dirty’, we would expect more cases and they would be dispersed in many areas.”
To help contain the spread of the virus, workers at Zone 1 will also have their own dining areas with individual seating, rest areas, reserved toilets and dedicated stations to put on and remove their PPE. They are also required to wear the appropriate PPE at all times, except when they are having meals or using the toilet.
The airport also added that the workers will also be given additional training on how to put on and take off PPE. On top of that, there will also be regular reminders from supervisors and more spot checks carried out.
After reading about the new segregation plans at Changi Airport, netizens took to the Facebook pages of Channel News Asia and The Straits Times to question the Government on why such measures were not taken at the start of the pandemic. They said that given that the airport is a high-risk location for COVID-19 infection, they asked why precaution measures like vaccinating all staff and possible loopholes have not been addressed earlier.
A couple of them expressed that Singapore’s standard has dropped so badly as the country has always been well prepared and looked into prevention rather than cure. However, the Government is now more reactive than proactive, resulting in a spike of community cases in the country.
Others expressed that they feel bad for the airport staff who have to go through so much hassle of putting on and taking off their PPE while at work, in addition to putting their lives at risk by working at Zone 1.
A number of them even pointed out that there have been cases where vaccinated individuals can still contract the virus, indicating that it is not right to put those people who have been vaccinated at risk.
However, some noted that the it’s better late than never for the Government to implement this new segregation plan.