SINGAPORE – On May 5, days after the emergence of the Covid-19 cluster at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), Mr. Nigel Rankine attempted to book a hotel stay but was told he could not be hosted.
The 27-year-old nurse works at TTSH. He has decided to temporarily relocate from his home to avoid exposing his elderly parents to the risk of contracting the coronavirus. Both parents are immunocompromised: her mother has cancer and her father is recovering from heart bypass surgery.
He had applied for alternative accommodation with TTSH on several occasions, but knew it would take some time to secure a place.
The hospital said it was working with hotels and accommodation providers to house its affected staff.
Mr. Rankine eventually found a hotel on his own, but was told reservations were not available.
But a friend who called the hotel said otherwise. When Mr. Rankine asked for answers, the hotel said it only accepts bookings for stays.
Mr Rankine had previously told the hotel, which he declined to name, that he worked at TTSH. He deduced from their answer that this was the reason they rejected him.
“The response I received was a little off-putting. If they had been truthful and honest from the start, it would have been less damaging,” Mr. Rankine said.
After failing to book a hotel room on his own, he contacted TTSH again and was finally able to get a hotel reservation that day. “I am grateful for the speed and how TTSH has helped give my family and myself peace of mind,” he said.
Mr Rankine said he found it fair that the hotel he first engaged with wanted to protect its staff and customers, just as it protected his family, but did not appreciate their lack of honesty .
“I don’t expect people to treat us any differently or put us on a pedestal just because we’re healthcare workers. But they should at least talk to us like we’re humans and not some sort of parasite, ”he said.
Reports of other TTSH healthcare workers being publicly rejected or forced to leave their homes have surfaced.
The hospital cluster currently has 46 cases of Covid-19 linked to May 16, with around 1,000 staff members placed in quarantine.
Another nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Straits Times that she had been staying in a hotel since May 12 as part of TTSH’s accommodation arrangements for its staff.
“I wanted to separate myself from others and minimize contact with my owner, who is elderly,” said the 26-year-old.
She adds that her neighbors avoid her when they see her coming from afar.
A day after the cluster’s announcement, she tried to hail a taxi to the hospital. She said of the driver:
“He asked me a lot of questions, like why I was going there, when was I vaccinated and what was the result of my swab test. I answered all of his questions but he told me. still rejected at the end, “she said.
This also happened with another taxi driver and after that she made it a point to stick to public transport and refrain from wearing the TTSH uniform when traveling.
Likewise, hospital clerk Dr Keefe Tan said his driver Grab canceled his ride, seconds after finding out he had booked one at TTSH.
“It was difficult to get around despite the map showing there are a lot of cars in the area,” said the 32-year-old.
When asked if he uses GrabCare, a dedicated service that aims to transport healthcare workers to and from hospitals, Dr Tan said it was always difficult to get around the ward but the situation was better compared to last year.
A spokesperson for Grab said the company has been running another recruitment drive to bring in more volunteer driver-partners to further support Singapore’s healthcare workers.
It currently has more than 12,000 driver-partners who have volunteered for its GrabCare fleet.
While Dr Tan said he understood why people could be afraid of TTSH healthcare workers, he couldn’t help but feel a little “sad and disappointed”.
“My colleagues and I are more than willing to put ourselves at the same risk every day for them and it would be nice to know that others are with us. At times like this, I just wish more people would ‘step up instead of turning the other way, “he said.