RIDE-HAILING companies in Singapore have stepped up their precautionary measures as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.
Grab suspended its carpooling service GrabShare from Feb 9 to minimise contact between individuals, and is also advising drivers of its GrabHitch car-hitch service against picking up multiple riders per trip.
The move comes after authorities in Singapore on Feb 7 elevated its risk asssessment of the novel coronavirus to Orange, the second highest level, following the emergence of cases without any known links to previous cases or travel history to China.
Of the 43 confirmed cases in Singapore as at Monday afternoon, two are known to have worked as private-hire drivers. One is a 45-year-old Singaporean who is the husband of an infected individual who works at Yong Thai Hang, a health product shop that primarily serves Chinese tourists. The other is a 53-year-old Singaporean male who, as at Feb 8, had no links to previous cases and no travel history to China.
A 64-year-old Singaporean male taxi driver also tested positive for the virus, and had no links to previous cases and no recent travel history to China as at Feb 8.
Gojek told The Business Times that it has strengthened its educational outreach to its drivers. It advises drivers to increase the cars' ventilation by not using the recirculation mode of the air-conditioning system, and to observe good hygiene practices such as washing hands and regularly sanitising door handles and seats.
As an additional measure, private-hire drivers will now be required by operators to submit their temperature readings via their mobile applications, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Monday. LTA will also work with the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association to set up islandwide temperature-taking stations for all point-to-point drivers.
To ensure that drivers are protected when ferrying passengers seeking medical attention, the government will provide 300,000 surgical masks to operators to distribute to drivers. The masks are meant for passengers who are unwell, and supplement current efforts by taxi and private-hire operators to provide masks and hand sanitisers to drivers who need them.
Both Grab and Gojek have also put in place measures to aid drivers who are affected by quarantine orders or leaves of absence.
Under Gojek's partnership with insurance provider Gigacover, drivers that are served a quarantine order have prolonged medical leave insurance coverage of up to about S$1,000 for 14 days, or more if the quarantine period is longer. Gojek is also providing a one-off S$100 allowance to these drivers.
Grab is providing a one-time support of S$100 to S$500, based on the programme tier that a driver is in. This is in addition to the S$100 per day of income support from the government for self-employed individuals who are quarantined.
Drivers on Gojek's vehical rental programme, as well as those renting their vehicles from GrabRentals and GrabRentals' affiliated partners, will have their rental waived during the quarantine period.
The death toll from the novel coronavirus is now more than 900, against some 40,000 confirmed cases. This means its fatality rate remains at about 2 per cent compared to around 10 per cent during the 2003 Sars epidemic, though the virus has sickened more people than Sars. Studies on how quickly it spreads remain inconclusive, with a commonly used measure - known as the basic reproduction number - being difficult to calculate.
The virus was first reported as a string of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan in December, before the World Health Organization identified it in early January as a new strain of coronavirus. It has since spread to markets including Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, France, South Korea and Canada.