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  • Writer's pictureSimon Ang

Concerns on "safe distancing" in densely populated Singapore

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

While physical distancing is the next logical step towards slowing the spread of COVID-19, I am concerned about the placement of eating cutlery at food courts and eateries, which are not immune to touches from multiple patrons.

Disinfect your cutlery

Perhaps an electric pot of hot water may be placed at a common area so that cutlery may be dipped before they are used for meals. I've seen this done in some food courts in Thailand. Another alternative is to bring your own cutlery or simply "dapao" (take-away) your food.

Incentivise the adoption of contactless payment systems at food courts

Cash is notoriously covered in germs, and studies have suggested that paper bills can contain bacteria and viruses which may lead to the spread of diseases. More can be done to encourage the adoption of cashless payment systems. However, do clean your phones regularly too! It’s also one of your most touched objects.

Safe distancing at wet markets

Typical crowd scene at a Singapore wet market

I was at the Clementi wet market last weekend - it was very busy with zero physical distancing whatsoever. I do see challenges in managing the flow of people moving in and out of the market and determining the average time spent by each customer. Typically, the wet market scene in Singapore is busy for a few hours only (early morning) and we need to find a practical way to stagger the crowds in order to give physical distancing a fighting chance of success. As individuals, we should also plan our purchases beforehand and minimize the time spent by not haggling too much with the stall owners. This could be a case study for Industrial Engineering students!

Crowds in buses and trains

The next thing that came to my mind is public transportation. On buses, seats may be blocked off to create a 'safe distance' between passengers and a temporary "no standing" order may be issued. I know it is inconvenient but unfortunately, we are not living in normal times. Mobile apps such as MyTransport.SG may be enhanced to provide near real time bus capacity details in advance to give commuters actionable intelligence to make better travelling decisions.

For companies that are unable to provide Work from Home options, now would be a good time to introduce staggered working hours as a policy. This would help spread the movement of people on public transportation not only during COVID-19, but also after the pandemic is over. I don’t know about you – I prefer my trains and buses not packed like sardines.

In conclusion

The virus is not inherently evil – it’s just another living organism looking for a place to live and humans are its habitat. From the virus' perspective, it doesn’t help it when we die because that would be a loss of habitat to them. Evolution will eventually push the virus to mutate into a milder form so that it can live and co-exist with humans. Until then, we will just have to stay united, take care of each other and deal with the situation. Be healthy and stay safe everyone.

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