SINGAPORE: A multi-agency task force has been formed to step up public hygiene standards in Singapore beyond the COVID-19 outbreak, authorities said on Friday (Mar 6).
The new SG Clean Taskforce, chaired by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, is under the purview of the multi-ministry task force for COVID-19 announced in January.
Mr Masagos, who was speaking alongside Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong at a press conference, said SG Clean was a long-term campaign.
"SG Clean is not a one-time exercise for COVID-19," said Mr Masagos.
Building on the SG Clean campaign launched last month, the SG Clean Taskforce will aim to "galvanise collective action" in ensuring the cleanliness of public spaces, encouraging good personal hygiene and adjusting social norms to reduce the spread of disease, said the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources in a press release.
As of Thursday, Singapore has confirmed 117 cases of COVID-19. The vast majority - 81 cases - have fully recovered.
As part of its scope, the new task force aims to encourage the public to adjust social norms to help prevent community spread of the disease.
"For instance, many have refrained from shaking hands during this period," said the ministry. "The SG Clean Taskforce will also encourage people to use serving spoons when sharing food, eat from trays and return trays in public dining places and to keep their tables clean."
It will also encourage the adoption of good personal hygiene habits such as washing hands frequently, using a tissue when sneezing or coughing and keeping public toilets clean and dry.
"Although Singapore is generally considered a clean and green city, we want to further step up cleanliness and hygiene standards in all facets of our lives, and make these our new norms beyond the immediate COVID-19 situation," said Mr Masagos.
"This will help keep our families and communities safe and healthy."
Mr Wong said public hygiene was the easiest to tackle because the Government could work with cleaning companies, set standards and audit them.
But he added personal hygiene and social norms were "more difficult" to address.
He highlighted that habits like not touching one's face and shaking hands were hard to shake off, although he said he was beginning to see changes.
"A few weeks ago if you tell people 'I don't want to shake hands', you will get sort of strange looks, but now people understand," he added.
"Some of these habits are hard to change. That’s why we do have to keep emphasising the message, we do have to ask everyone to step up this responsibility and this is the only way to fight the virus."
In a Facebook post on Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong similarly stressed the importance of hygiene and cleanliness in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
"We have been quite successful identifying patients, tracing contacts and stamping out clusters," said Mr Lee. "We will keep on doing this. But we also need to slow the spread of the virus, and that means we must raise our hygiene standards.
"Better hygiene must be our first line of defence," he said.
Also speaking at Friday's press conference was the health ministry's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, who urged travellers entering Singapore to cooperate with authorities.
"Being socially responsible helps protect our community. Won't prevent new cases from coming ... we are a porous country," said Assoc Prof Mak.
"We ask therefore that all travellers be cooperative with us."
AMENDMENTS TO ENVIRONMENTAL PUBLIC HEALTH ACT
A key part of the SG Clean campaign is the SG Clean quality mark, which serves as a hygiene indicator.
Various government bodies have been working with the National Environment Agency (NEA) to audit their premises and related areas, some of which are already SG Clean certified.
NEA aims to roll out the SG Clean certification programme at premises with high human traffic and more vulnerable segments of the population by the end of the year, said the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources.
As part of efforts to raise cleanliness standards in Singapore, the ministry will also make amendments to the Environmental Public Health Act later this year.
Mandatory cleaning standards will be introduced, including a regime for "pro-active routing cleaning" and disinfection at prescribed frequencies, it said.
These will cover areas such as frequency of cleaning and disinfection of high contact areas, pest management and back-of-house waste management such as bin centres.
Greater accountability will also be placed on premises' managers, who will be required to implement an environmental sanitation programme and remedy lapses in cleanliness.
They will also be required to appoint a trained designated person to help develop and implement the sanitation programme.
NEA will work with sectoral leads to progressively implement the new requirements for 2021, starting with higher-risk premises such as pre-schools, schools, eldercare facilities and hawker centres.
"It is important not just for COVID-19, but even not so long ago we had food poisoning cases at some of these pre-school centres, so we really need a higher level of hygiene for COVID-19, but also for other infectious diseases," Mr Wong said.
"The (Ministry of Environment and Water Resources) will be in a better place when they work out the details – which are the places that we are focusing on in terms of raising the level of public cleanliness."
Reporters has also contacted the environment ministry for comment on penalties for non-compliance.
The other members of the task force are Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Health and the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor, Senior Minister for State for Transport and for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth as well as Transport Baey Yam Keng.