Written reply by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, to Parliamentary Question on Safe Distancing, on 4 May 2020
Ms Rahayu Mahzam: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) what training has been given to the safe distancing ambassadors to prepare them for their role during the circuit breaker period; and (b) what measures have been put in place to ensure their safety and well-being as they perform their roles.
Miss Cheng Li Hui: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources when the circuit breaker period ends (a) whether the safe distancing measures and penalties will continue to be in force and, if so, how; (b) whether additional measures are necessary to ensure a continuous reduction in new COVID-19 cases; and (c) whether safe distancing ambassadors will continue to be deployed and, if so, how will it be ensured that they adequately protect themselves from abuse and violence.
1 The introduction and enforcement of Safe Distancing measures (SDMs) is an important strategy in Singapore’s national effort to curb the transmission of COVID-19. The Government takes these SDMs seriously, as they are crucial to slow the transmission of the virus and to keep all of us safe. We thank the majority of Singaporeans who have followed not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the measures. For the small minority who refuse to cooperate, they remain at higher risk of contracting the virus and then spreading it to others. We therefore have enforced strictly so that the pain endured and sacrifices made by the majority are not wasted.
2 The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources leads a Taskforce to implement SDMs in key public spaces in HDB estates, such as town centres, wet markets, hawker centres, coffee shops, parks, and public transport nodes. The Taskforce comprises NEA, SFA, HDB, NParks, LTA, SportSG, PA, SPF, MCCY, and PSD. Every day, the agencies deploy around 3,000 Safe Distancing Enforcement Officers, SG Clean Ambassadors, and Safe Distancing Ambassadors.
3 The role of an Enforcement Officer or Ambassador is not an easy one. The officers start their shifts from as early as 6am, and are constantly on their feet ensuring that members of public and businesses adhere to the SDMs. Enforcement Officers are authorised to take enforcement actions against violations of SDMs. I would like to thank our officers for their tireless efforts and sacrifices to keep us safe.
4 Our Enforcement Officers and Ambassadors have different backgrounds and skillsets. Many are public service officers from around 50 different agencies, who have stepped forward to join the Taskforce’s operations, on top of their existing functions and duties which they still have to balance. Others are displaced Singaporeans on temporary employment, such as those recruited from the aviation sector. We also have volunteers who support PA and other Task Force agencies to ensure safe distancing.
5 Training is conducted for all officers to prepare them before deployment. They are briefed on the SDMs, and rules of engagement when dealing with members of public. We pay special attention to remind them not to put themselves in harm’s way, and to train them to handle situations, like assisting vulnerable groups such as seniors and individuals with mental illness with sensitivity, or managing uncooperative and abusive individuals. During their initial deployment, these officers are paired with more experienced team mates for additional on-the-job guidance to familiarise them with the work and build their confidence.
6 For their safety and protection, Enforcement Officers and Ambassadors are given identification such as passes and armbands, and protective equipment which may include face masks, face shields, and hand sanitisers. They are also reminded to practise good hygiene such as to take their temperature twice a day, wash their hands frequently with soap and water, and shower and change their clothes at the end of the day before they come into close contact with others. We have also developed a set of best practices for deploying agencies, such as keeping officers to the same team for daily deployment where possible.
7 While the majority of the population has been cooperative, a small number of individuals have been defiant and abusive to our Enforcement Officers and Ambassadors. They have photographed and filmed them as they do their jobs, and have even verbally and physically abused them. Let me state categorically that this is unacceptable, and we have zero tolerance for abuse of our officers. We have and will continue to work closely with the Police to identify, apprehend, and charge those responsible with the full force of the law.
8 SDMs and the associated penalties will be in force for the duration of the Circuit Breaker period, which is until 1 June. We will adjust the measures and deployment of officers depending on the prevailing situation. To minimise the risk of future outbreaks, we must continue to take steps to protect ourselves and others. I urge everyone to continue to follow the prevailing safe distancing advisories and measures, and observe high standards of personal hygiene and social responsibility. In this way, we can better protect ourselves and our loved ones.
9 I also seek your support for our Enforcement Officers and Ambassadors who are working for our collective safety and health. Please cooperate with them. If you see them in your community, give them a wave of encouragement from a distance away, to recognise and support them for their hard work to keep us safe.