Jurong Fishery Port workers mingling and not wearing masks believed to have caused Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore

The Jurong Fishery Port, being a marketplace, also meant that workers and traders mixed freely throughout the facility, Grace Fu said in Parliament yesterday. — Google Maps screenshot via TODAY
The Jurong Fishery Port, being a marketplace, also meant that workers and traders mixed freely throughout the facility, Grace Fu said in Parliament yesterday. — Google Maps screenshot via TODAY

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SINGAPORE, July 27 — Fishmongers who did not wear masks while performing laborious tasks or taking breaks could have resulted in the flare-up of cases at Singapore’s main seafood wholesaler, the authorities’ early findings have revealed. 

The Jurong Fishery Port, being a marketplace, also meant that workers and traders mixed freely throughout the facility, Grace Fu said in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister for Sustainability and the Environment added that contactless delivery measures were not strictly followed as well.

The serious outbreak of cases at the Jurong Fishery Port, with 858 infections linked to it as of yesterday, has prompted the authorities to tighten Covid-19 restrictions from July 22 to August 18.

It is Singapore’s largest active Covid-19 community cluster now.

Investigations are underway by the Ministry of Health and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to determine how the transmission had taken place at the Jurong Fishery Port, Fu said.

They are also probing the possibility of the coronavirus spreading through objects at the port.

Fu said that the lack of compliance in wearing masks could be a result of the humid environment at the port, which makes it uncomfortable for workers to be masked for long periods of time.

These workers also have to move boxes, filled with fish and ice, that can each weigh up to 120kg.

She noted that the lapses had occurred while safety measures had been in place. These included contactless delivery and controlled access to the facility allowing only workers and registered trade visitors to enter.

Before the fishery port reopens, there will be a second round of deep cleaning of the facility.

After it reopens, the following will have to be done:

  • Regular cleaning of common areas and crates
  • Rostered routine testing every seven days for all workers
  • Strengthening contactless delivery protocols for truck drivers and boatmen
  • Antigen rapid testing for trade visitors entering the facility
  • More frequent patrols to enforce safety regulations

Elsewhere, SFA has audited the Senoko Fishery Port and the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre for any gaps in safety protocols.

All workers there are now being swabbed for Covid-19.

The Singapore government is also seeking to have weekly rostered routine testing and enhanced regulations at these facilities as soon as possible. 

“An alternative site is being made available for use in the event of another closure of the fishery ports or Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre,” Fu said.

Similar audits will be rolled out progressively to cover all other key food facilities, she added.

Seafood supply ‘stable’

In response to several questions from Members of Parliament, Fu said that Singapore’s seafood supply has “remained stable” despite the disruptions caused by the closure of the Jurong Fishery Port, which handles 30 per cent of the country’s seafood import.

It has been closed since July 17 for two weeks and all 684 workers at the port were quarantined.

Seafood stallholders island-wide also had to stop operations and could only reopen after they tested negative for Covid-19.

Shoppers had rushed to the supermarkets for seafood after hearing news of the closures, but dining restrictions under the ongoing heightened alert phase that began on July 22 had moderated some demand, Fu said.

SFA and trade agency Enterprise Singapore had activated alternative arrangements to divert seafood supplies directly to the supermarket’s distribution centres and retail outlets.

Some seafood stalls at certain markets that resumed operations have switched to getting supplies from Senoko Fishery Port — which handles about 4 per cent of Singapore’s seafood import, Fu said.

Restaurants and eateries are also turning to frozen seafood for the time being, which are in “sufficient” supply, she added.

Support for hawkers, stallholders

To support hawkers through this disruption, the Singapore government last Friday announced a S$500 one-off cash assistance for each individual stallholder of cooked food and market stalls in centres managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) or NEA-appointed operators.

This will be credited directly to the stallholders’ bank accounts in August.

It will come on top of the extra one month of subsidies for fees for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services, and one month of rental waivers.

The Singapore government will also provide another four-week rental waiver for qualifying tenants on government-owned commercial properties.

Those under quarantine can apply for the Quarantine Order Allowance Scheme. 

Lower — to middle-income workers whose incomes have been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic may also apply for the Covid-19 Recovery Grant. 

Those who continue to face financial issues may also approach NEA, which will review the cases and provide support on a case-by-case basis. — TODAY

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