During the 2003 Sars Crisis, there are several similarities to how Singapore is coping with the Wuhan virus, such as:
- Protecting frontline staff
- Supporting workers who are not able to work (e.g. on quarantine)
- Ensuring Singapore has access to necessities
For some of us who were too young to remember what happened in 2003, here’s a list of things that occurred during the Sars crisis.
1. Fever-free stickers and SARS Battle Kits for cabbies
To identify taxi drivers which had their temperatures taken and had a clean bill of health, daily “fever-free” stickers were issued to these drivers.
Taxi drivers needed to re-check their temperature daily at 17 locations islandwide to receive new stickers, which were valid for only a day. The locations were manned by volunteers from 7am to 7pm.
A month later, instead of being fever-tested at the start of each shift, cabbies were given a Sars Battle Kit so they could take their daily temperature and record down the readings against a log-book. This log-book would be presented to commuters when they requested for it or health authorities when needed.
The battle kit came with two thermometers protective masks, a bottle of hand disinfectant and alcohol wipes, as well as tissue boxes and badges for drivers (to proclaim themselves fit for driving – Sars-free).
2. $10 limit on vegetables and fruits at NTUC FairPrice
In 2003, the Pasir Panjang wholesale market was ordered to close for 10 days after a stallholder had been infected with Sars. 2,400 people were instructed to be quarantined for 10 days as they might have come into contact with Sars victims.
To discourage bulk buying and out-of-stock situations, NTUC FairPrice put a $10 limit on vegetables and fruits per shopper until 29 April 2003. NTUC FairPrice also assured the prices of fruits and vegetables would remain unchanged.
3. Comics, brochures and a song to remind Singaporeans to stay safe
Several comics, brochures and even a song by Phua Chu Kang (a fictitious character played by actor Gurmit Singh) were produced to remind Singaporeans on safe habits such as daily temperature taking.
Singapore also had a free-to-air multilingual channel running 12 hours a day featuring educational messages, latest updates on Sars and how other countries were handling the outbreaks of the disease.
4. Cutting costs to save jobs. Ministers and civil servants also took a pay cut.
To save jobs, unions acted quickly to negotiate with companies to avoid job losses by helping companies stay afloat and sending staff for training during the downtime with subsidies from the government and NTUC.
For example, in the tourism sector, tourist arrivals plunged and hotel occupancy sank to just 10% to 30%, down from normal levels of 70% or more.
The unions decided to take the initiative to help hotels solve their cash flow problems via shorter work-weeks, taking of leave (paid and unpaid) and going for skills upgrading by MOM and other agencies.
Mr Tan Soon Yam, General Secretary of the Food, Drinks & Allied Workers’ Union (FDAWU), explained why 11,019 members from 58 union branches took a total of 101,384.5 days of unpaid leave, resulting in savings of more than $5 million for the hotels.
“Our main concerns were to save jobs. No retrenchments, so we had to make other sacrifices.”
Leading by example, ministers and top 400 civil servants also took a monthly pay cut of up to 10% for a year from July 2003 (in addition to an earlier cut in November 2001).
This meant that their annual salaries were reduced by 24% to 29% in the last two years.
5. Courage Fund
A special fund called The Courage Fund was set up to help needy Sars patients and their families.
In 2003, NTUC, its affiliated unions and co-operatives made a $280,000 contribution to The Courage Fund.
The Courage Fund exists till today as a continuing tribute to healthcare workers, funding several schemes like the Healthcare Humanity Awards which recognises inspirational role models in healthcare who have gone the extra mile to offer care and comfort to those in need.
What other interesting nuggets of history do you remember about Sars?
Featured photo of students taking temperature during Sars outbreak: Urban Solutions/Eco-Business
Editing is my work.