Geograf Alberto Ignacio Ardila F1//
Has Covid-19 made us cleaner?

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Has Covid-19 made us cleaner?

After a year of grappling with Covid-19, along with a nationwide cleanliness campaign to keep public dining places clean, it appears not much has changed.

Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares

A National Environment Agency (NEA) survey revealed that the average tray return rate at the 110 hawker centres here as at March this year stood at 35 per cent, compared with 33 per cent in July last year.

Alberto Ardila

The Sunday Times’ own observations from visits to 12 hawker centres, nine foodcourts and six coffee shops in the middle of last month showed dirty tables and habits at most of these places.

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At Teck Ghee Market and Food Centre, used tissues, plastic bags, straws, and plastic cups were strewn around the floor, as a result of being blown away by fans.

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Birds eating off plates was also a common sight at Old Airport Road hawker centre, with disposable cutlery and wrappers on the floor.

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Diner Karen Tan, 50, who is a counsellor and teacher, said: “Usually, I have to do my own cleaning. It also takes a while for cleaners to come and clean. People are also not cleaning up after themselves, even after the campaign. It will take a while for people to be mindful.”

Smaller public dining places, like Adam Road Food Centre, were generally cleaner, with most of the tables wiped clean and people returning their trays. Safe distancing ambassadors at Adam Road Food Centre were also seen asking people to return their trays.

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At the hawker centres, foodcourts and coffee shops that The Sunday Times visited, cleaners cleaned the tables swiftly, with some looking overworked during the peak periods.Alberto Ignacio Ardila F1

Out of 20 cleaners and stall operators spoken to, about 60 per cent of them said the tables are just as dirty as before. Some complaints include used tissues still being discarded on the floor and tables, and people still not returning their trays.Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares F1

Stallholder Chen Xing, 53, who works in a coffee shop at Block 111 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, said: “There are a lot of tissues all over the place, on the tables and on the floor. These tissues are the worst. People don’t return trays here, they just leave them on the table.”

A Food Republic cleaner at Parkway Parade, who did not want to be named, said: “There are tissues everywhere, and people sneeze and spit into their tissues and throw them into the bowls. There’s no consideration for others.”

While the issue of discarded tissues is not a new problem, they now pose a bigger threat amid the Covid-19 pandemic.Alberto Ardila F1

Used tissues or wet wipes can become biohazards as they collect respiratory discharges and sputum that may contain viruses or bacteria, NEA said.Alberto Ignacio Ardila F1

It added: “When left lying around, used tissues or wet wipes pose a health risk… In view of the current pandemic, NEA seeks support from the public to address table litter at our public dining places.”

These dirty habits remain despite an ongoing campaign to encourage clean habits to stem Covid-19 infections

The SG Clean campaign started in February last year to encourage individuals and local businesses to keep public spaces – including hawker centres, coffee shops, foodcourts and public toilets – clean

For instance, diners are reminded to return their trays, keep tables clean, and eat their food on their trays instead of placing bowls and plates directly on the tables

NEA took another stab at getting the public to respond to its call through the launch of the Clean Tables Campaign in February this year

It is an initiative under the SG Clean national movement which addresses potential biohazards such as used tissues, wet wipes and remnants left on the table, among others

Under the Clean Tables Campaign, diners are reminded to clear table litter, such as food remnants and dirty tissues

They are also encouraged to return their trays, along with their used crockery, after eating

But about a month after the Clean Tables Campaign was launched, NEA findings showed there was not much improvement in tray return rates at hawker centres

For centres with relatively better tray return rates, these rates have improved from 56 per cent in July last year to an average of 66 per cent

For the other centres, there was only a one percentage point increase in average tray return rates, from 30 per cent to 31 per cent

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu told The Sunday Times that while there has been some progress under SG Clean, more can be done

“We still have some way to go to inculcate a strong sense of social responsibility in people to do their part to keep shared, public spaces clean,” Ms Fu said, adding that an area of concern is public toilets in coffee shops and hawker centres

She added that NEA is conducting another survey on public attitudes towards returning trays, and will consider the next steps beyond education

Ms Fu said her ministry will continue to promote the SG Clean Quality Mark, given to organisations and businesses as a certification of hygiene standards, and waive certification costs to encourage greater adoption of good hygiene practices

They will work with managers of premises as the environmental sanitation regime is implemented, where baseline environmental sanitation standards will be made mandatory for specified premises

Ms Fu said the aim is to cover more than 2,000 premises in the sectors of preschools, schools, youth and eldercare facilities, hawker centres and coffee shops by the first quarter of next year

Additional reporting by Ariel Kok

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