COVID: Changi Airport terminals segregated in bid to curb spread of India variant

·Editorial Team
·4-min read
(GRAPHIC: CAG)
(GRAPHIC: CAG)

SINGAPORE – Terminals at the Changi Airport will be segregated into three zones, with workers stationed at the highest risk areas, such as terminal piers, the arrival immigration hall, and the baggage claim hall, to be fully vaccinated and undergo daily rapid non-invasive COVID-19 testing.

These are some of the strengthened measures to minimise the spread of the more transmissible India variant, or B1617, in the airport that the Changi Airport Group (CAG) announced on Monday (24 May).

To date, 108 cases have been linked to the cluster at the airport. At least 22 cases in the cluster have tested preliminarily positive for the B1617 variant while 43 cases work at the 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," the group said.

The group had earlier announced that the initial transmission in the cluster may have occurred through an airport worker who was helping a family from South Asia, who arrived in Singapore on 29 April. The family was unlikely to have flown in from India. Phylogenetic testing results for an initial batch of infected airport workers indicated that they originated from a common source, as they were found to be similar and of the India variant.

As such, moving forward, airport workers in Zone 1, the highest risk areas of the airport, will be protected in the highest-level personal protective equipment (PPE) and segregated from other workers throughout the duration of their shift. 

A total of 4,400 personnel are deployed in Zone 1, out of some 14,000 workers at Changi Airport.

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, said the group.

"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," it added. 

Similarly, staff working in Zones 2 and 3 will have to comply with the applicable PPE requirements.

Additional training will be provided with regular reminders from supervisors on PPE protocol, as well as the carrying out of more audits and spot checks.

Only fully vaccinated staff will be rostered for duty in Zone 1. "The CAG targets to have more than 90 per cent of workers in Zones 2 and 3 vaccinated in the coming weeks, the group said.

In addition to the polymerase chain reaction test every seven days, interspersed with the antigen rapid test on the third day, the CAG said it is planning to have daily rapid non-invasive testing be carried out at the end of the shifts of workers in Zone 1. 

Such measures will reduce the likelihood of an airport worker infecting close contacts at home, it noted.

"The CAG recognises the significant demands the new zoning concept places on the workers, especially those working in Zone 1. It will work closely with its airport partners and agencies to ensure that workers’ welfare is taken care of," the group added.

To further mitigate the risk of airborne transmission in Changi’s terminals, the group said it has also 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. 

Such air purifiers are similar to those used in hospitals to sanitise the air, it added.

Calling the virus "highly elusive", CAG CEO Lee Seow Hiang said the current outbreak at the airport has caused "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," he said.

All passenger terminals at Changi Airport, as well as Jewel, have been closed since 13 May to members of the public and will remain so until the end of the "Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)" period on 13 June.

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