Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport has tightened its COVID-19 restrictions and said on Monday (24 May) that it would segregate workers based exposure risk and only those who have been vaccinated will work in high-risk zones. The airport, which has consistently been named as one of the best in the world, has suffered a large outbreak of COVID-19 infections and as of Sunday there were 108 cases tied to the airport.
Under the new segregation plans, terminals will be divided into three zones. There will be no mingling between those in Zone 1 – the highest risk area – and those in other zones during shifts, said Changi Airport.
“While Changi Airport had been able to keep its airport operations safe over the last 16 months through many layers of stringent safety protocols, the more virulent B1617 strain has penetrated its defences resulting in airport workers, their families and members of the public being infected,” airport officials said in announcing the new restrictions.
Changi officials said they would implement a new zoning concept based on workers’ risk exposure. Under this concept, the airport’s terminals will be segregated into three zones. Airport workers in Zone 1 (the terminal piers, arrival immigration hall and baggage claim hall) will be protected in the highest-level PPE and segregated from other workers throughout the duration of their shift. As an added precautionary measure, passengers from very high-risk countries will be escorted to remote gates in Terminal 2 for immigration clearance and then transported by bus out of Changi Airport directly to their quarantine facility, without going through the operational terminals. Zone 1 workers will have their own dining areas with individual seating, rest areas, reserved toilets and dedicated PPE donning and doffing stations. Except during meal times or when using the toilet, they will have to be fully attired at the appropriate PPE level. All Zone 1 workers will remain within their work zone throughout their shift. Similarly, staff working in Zones 2 and 3 will have to comply with the applicable PPE requirements. Officials also said only fully vaccinated staff will be rostered for duty in Zone 1.
The airport will also institute a more robust testing regime. In addition to the Polymerase Chain Reaction test every seven days, interspersed with the Antigen Rapid Test on the third day, daily rapid non-invasive testing to be carried out at the end of workers’ shifts is being planned. These measures will reduce the likelihood of an airport worker infecting close contacts at home.
The airport has also upgraded its terminal air filters. Since the onset of COVID-19 last year, the air-con system supply air filters have also been upgraded from MERV-7-rated models to MERV-14-rated ones which have higher filtration capability to better mitigate the risk of virus spread in alignment with the COVID-19 defence guidelines published by Singapore authorities. To further mitigate the risk of airborne transmission in Changi’s terminals, CAG has installed portable air purifiers with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters across key areas in the new segregated zones, focusing on more contained spaces where staff and passengers dwell, such as staff rest areas, changing rooms and gate hold-rooms. These HEPA air purifiers are similar to those used in hospitals to sanitise the air.
Lee Seow Hiang, CEO of Changi Airport Group, said: “Changi Airport has been built on two pillars of strength – our strong connectivity, and our close community, firstly among our airport partners, and secondly, with the people of Singapore, with whom we have a special bond. This Covid-19 virus attempts to destroy both of these pillars; first by decimating our passenger flows since last year, and now, with this incident with a far more transmissible variant. While we have had in place successful measures over the past year to protect workers and passengers, the virus remains a highly elusive one. It penetrated our defences and caused an infection to spread across our community causing distress and anxiety to the public. We deeply regret this and, together with the entire airport community, we are determined not to let this virus succeed in destroying our community and our connectivity.”