Covid-19: Lest I forget the gritty details (Part 1: Awareness)

The news of the novel coronavirus in China was already circulating. 24 January 2020, one Mainland Chinese tourist in Singapore tested positive. 25 January 2020, several Mainland Chinese tourists in Malaysia tested positive. The first inkling of what is to come was when I flew back to Singapore from KLIA on 27 January 2020 after the CNY break. I can’t remember the exact reason why the awareness was heightened on this trip back to Singapore. I think it may have been triggered by a university email about travel declarations and the setting up of quarantine and leave of absence (LOA) student housing. The Grabcar driver who picked me up from my brother’s place was wearing a mask. When I arrived at KLIA and saw quite many airline staff and travellers with surgical masks on, that was when Covid-19 (then called novel coronavirus) situation became a reality in my life. I remember looking over at a group of tourists from Mainland China checking-in at the Southern China airline counter.

Travel Declarations

By 28 January 2020, the university had set up an Online Travel Declaration site for staff and students to declare any travel to China. Anyone who had traveled to Wuhan, would be quarantined for 14 days. Anyone who had traveled to other parts of China would be on LOA for 14 days. Initially there were some hiccups. Many prompts were sent to remind students to declare their travel. There were also a number of error declarations where students who did not travel to China, mistakenly entered “yes”. This was followed by some hoohah where these students were prevented from coming to class until their error declarations were checked out by the Immigration dept. I don’t think it got that far, because after a few days, these students were allowed to attend classes again.

Food Delivery for students on LOA

End January 2020 was also when the university moved students out of some graduate housing blocks and converted the units to house international students who had returned from China and had been placed on LOA. Another block was designated as a quarantine unit for people who had close contact with a confirmed case or who visited and returned from Wuhan.

For the 210 students in the LOA blocks, breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided for 14 days. Because of the large number of meals to be delivered, there was a call for volunteers to help distribute meals. I remember going for my first meal distribution volunteer session. It was lunch time on a Thursday (6 Feb 2020). Waiting at the entrance area with other volunteers and with surgical masks on, I saw a Grabfood rider arriving at the block. He must have quite a shock to see that sight. Then a male student, with a mask on, emerged from the LOA block to collect his Subway sandwich. LOA students are not confined to the building, they can travel out but just not to attend classes.

The volunteers had to use hand sanitizer before entering the building. We were told to hang the plastic bag of food on the door handle, to be especially careful not to touch the handle, and not to knock on the door because some students have complained about that. There were also special meals: vegetarian, eggless, no shellfish, etc. We also had to discard the breakfast sandwich and coffee that were left untouched. There were some confusion when the student was quick to retrieve the meal, and then another volunteer might hang another set of meal on that door handle. When I left, I quickly threw away the mask, and sanitized my hands and took the bus to office.

During my second volunteer duty on Saturday (8 Feb), the young folk in charge asked if I still had my mask from the previous session! That just shows people were not so aware of the do-s and don’t-s in this novel situation. I said no and she sent someone to get a mask for me.

I did a third call of food delivery duty on Saturday (15 Feb), by then there were fewer students on LOA in the block. Most have served their 14 days.

Daily Twice-a-day Temperature Taking and Declaration

On Sunday (9 Feb 2020), we received an email that there would be mandatory twice a day temperature taking and online declaration starting on Monday (10 Feb 2020). I was a bit distressed by this because I didn’t have a thermometer and dreaded the thought of the inconvenience of having to go to the hall office or the different temperature taking stations twice a day. I even pondered whether my food probe thermometer might work. I then went to the nearby mall knowing that there’s a baby section at Robinsons (higher end departmental store) and thinking that people may not venture there. To my delight and relief, they had two Pigeon brand baby thermometers. I bought both. I also found baby thermometers at the baby section at FairPrice. While I was browsing the pharmacies at the mall (looking for surgical masks but knowing there wouldn’t be any), I heard people asking the staff for thermometers and there was none available. Texted my colleagues to check if they needed any but did not hear from them. I decided to just buy another thermometer from Fair Price. I passed the two thermometers to my colleagues.

However, it turned out the temperature taking stations were quite conveniently placed and there were not many people queuing at the stations. Eventually the university placed temperature video scanners at some main thoroughfares and we didn’t have to be “shot” in the head daily by the contactless thermometers.

Twice a day temperature taking is still happening. My baby thermometer is very helpful when I’m working from home or is in the office and too lazy to walk out to the temperature taking stations.

More to come ….

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