(24 May 2021) Changi Airport in Singapore has implemented significant measures to ensure that airport workers, passengers and visitors are well protected from the risks of COVID19 transmission.
While the airport, frequently voted the best airport in the world, had been able to keep its airport operations safe over the last 16 months through many layers of stringent safety protocols, the more virulent B.1.617 strain, which was first discovered in India, still managed to penetrate its defences resulting in airport workers, their families and members of the public being infected.
The new measures being introduced follow an operational analysis of the recent outbreak. There will be additional infection-control measures airport-wide to minimise virus spread in light of the more transmissible COVID19 variant, as follows:
– Segregation of the workplace with strict access controls between zones, and with no mingling of workers between Zone 1 (highest risk) and the rest of the zones during shifts;
– Enhanced level of personal protective equipment (PPE) for all workers in Zone 1, as well as strengthened protocols for the donning and doffing of PPE with regular training and audits to reinforce the right practices;
– Ensuring all workers in Zone 1 are fully vaccinated; and
– Working towards daily non-invasive rapid testing of Zone 1 workers at the end of their shifts.
A new zoning concept is being introduced 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.
PPE for Workers
It is important for airport workers to know and strictly follow the dos and don’ts of donning and doffing PPEs. To achieve this, there will be additional training provided with regular reminders from supervisors on PPE protocol. More audits and spot checks will also be carried out.
As vaccination provides the individual with protection and reduces the risk of transmission, only fully vaccinated staff will be rostered for duty in Zone 1. Changi aims to have more than 90% of workers in Zones 2 and 3 vaccinated in the coming weeks.
A more robust testing regime will also be introduced to give Zone 1 workers added peace of mind. In addition to the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) 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.
Cleaner Terminal Air
The existing ventilation system in the terminals delivers one cycle of complete air change every 6 to 10 minutes in general spaces, and every 3 minutes in the toilets, comparable to the air change prescribed for swabbing test areas.
Since the onset of COVID19 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 COVID19 defence guidelines published by the authorities.
To further mitigate the risk of airborne transmission in Changi’s terminals, the airport 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 holdrooms. These HEPA air purifiers are similar to those used in hospitals to sanitise the air.