Serving drinks at 30,000 feet and explaining the intricacies of the in-flight entertainment system were all in a day’s work for Singapore Airlines Ltd. cabin crew until the coronavirus turned the world upside down.
Now Geraldine Loo spends her days guiding commuters at the city’s train stations, while colleague Norazillah Zayadi is working shifts in a hospital.
These are just some of the workers who have been redeployed in Singapore as the coronavirus brings some jobs to a standstill and creates surging demand for others.
Companies from Singapore Airlines to airport-services provider SATS Ltd. and taxi firm ComfortDelGro Corp. have reassigned underused staff to help the country overcome the new realities of the pandemic.
It’s “a win-win situation,” said Loo, whose airline has grounded most of its planes in the outbreak. “With the reduction of flights, I was already looking for something to occupy my free time,” she said. “I can spend my time doing something meaningful.”
While the redeployment of workers during the crisis isn’t unique to Singapore, the city-state has moved quickly to enable such measures. For example, the government temporarily relaxed regulations last month to allow taxi drivers to transport groceries.
As infections continue to spike, there’s more need for health-care and support workers. New cases rose to more than 1,000 a day on Monday and Tuesday as more foreign workers living in dormitories tested positive for the virus.
The city-state has progressively tightened restrictions as it seeks to contain the pathogen’s spread. Singapore will extend its partial lockdown, known as the “circuit breaker,” by four weeks until June 1, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a live broadcast to the nation Tuesday.
ComfortDelGro is planning to use some of its 10,000-strong taxi fleet to deliver orders from RedMart Pte., an online store owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Lazada Group SA. The virus outbreak has caused an unprecedented surge in demand for home delivery of food items, the company said in a statement last week.
The Singapore Airlines Group has committed to provide at least 300 of its staff to hospitals and at least 1,000 to train stations and elsewhere in the public-transport network to support the city-state’s efforts to contain the virus.
Norazillah, an inflight manager at the airline, is assisting nursing staff at a hospital, she said. She’s helping patients sit up in bed, serving their meals, collecting feedback and managing visitors. Her goal is to reduce the burden on health-care workers.
“I hope to lighten the strain that they are experiencing,” she said. “I hope to gain knowledge and a better understanding of medical skills.”
The airline’s cabin crew and other staff members are also helping Singapore public-transport operator SMRT Corp. to employ safe-distancing measures, resolve passenger queries and operate thermal scanners at train stations and bus stops.
SATS, a provider of ground handling and catering services to airlines, has redeployed about 5,000 people into new roles and activities, with some of them working at the National Environment Agency, the Ministry of Health, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, according to President and Chief Executive Officer Alex Hungate.
“Despite the collapse of aviation volumes, none of our people are sitting idle,” Hungate said. “They are either busy feeding and protecting the community directly during this crisis, or preparing for the future.”
Vincent Chua, a 65-year-old customer-service agent at SATS, is now working with a colleague, the 27-year-old Rainier Yong. The duo carry out checks on people serving stay-at-home notices.
“We walk a lot and have to travel to different addresses across Singapore via public transport or car,” Chua said. “At times, we have to contend with the weather as we’re outdoors, but otherwise it’s a walk in the park.”
Singapore’s government has so far allocated more than S$60 billion ($41.9 billion) in support to contain the economic damage from the pandemic. That includes wage subsidies, monthly cash payouts for the self-employed, payments for the unemployed, and funds for training and creation of new roles.
The redeployment of jobs may help curb unemployment in the city-state, according to Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB Private Banking. “Hopefully, these measures can hold the jobless rate for residents under 5%,” he said.
But for the people who have changed roles, it’s also a chance to learn new things.
“I am grateful to have a job while being able to help fellow Singaporeans during this pandemic,” said SATS employee Yong. “This is a chance to upgrade myself and build my leadership skills.”