SINGAPORE: A multi-agency task force has been formed to step up public hygiene standards in Singapore beyond the COVID-19 outbreak.

The new SG Clean Taskforce was announced on Friday (Mar 6) by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR).

It will be chaired by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and is set up 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 MEWR in a press release on Friday.

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 will aim 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 MEWR. “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.”

READ: 5 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore, new cluster at SAFRA Jurong reported

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.”

Also speaking at Friday’s press conference director of medical services at MOH Kenneth Mak urged travellers coming into Singapore to exercise care. 

“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 to be cooperative with us.”

READ: SAFRA Jurong COVID-19 cluster: Confirmed cases cleared mandatory temperature checks

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 respective premises and related areas, some of which are already SG Clean certified.

NEA will aim to roll out the SG Clean certification programme to premises with high human traffic and more vulnerable segments of the population by the end of the year, said MEWR in its press release.

READ: ‘Theoretical possibility’ that COVID-19 can spread from pets to humans: MOH

As part of efforts to raise cleanliness standards in Singapore, MEWR will also make amendments to the Environmental Public Health Act later this year, the ministry said on Friday.

Mandatory cleaning standards will be introduced, including a regime for “pro-active routing cleaning” and disinfection at prescribed frequencies, said the ministry in a press release.

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 on their premises.

They will also be required to appoint a trained Designated Person to assist in developing and implementing 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.

“MEWR will be in a better place when they work out the details, (on) which are the places that we are focusing on in terms of raising the level of public cleanliness.”

CNA has also contacted MEWR 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.

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