What COVID-19 safe distancing ambassadors in Singapore really do

What is it like telling uncles and aunties to follow circuit breaker measures?

Justin Hui

Published: 13 April 2020, 12:00 AM

In light of the heightened safe distancing measures recently implemented as part of the COVID-19 circuit breaker in Singapore, you might encounter small teams of people with their red tags on patrol while heading out to purchase your essential supplies.

You need not panic if you see them (especially if you’re out for a good reason and abiding by the rules), as these safe distancing ambassadors are around to help educate and encourage people to follow the new measures.

Youth.SG spoke to a safe distancing ambassador to find out more about what they do.

“We don’t enforce. Some people don’t understand that we are not there to catch them, but to advise them for their own safety,” said Tan Li Ling, 28, who began her deployment on Good Friday.

“They get defensive and say “I’m wearing mask! I still need to buy food”, but we just say thank you and move on.”

Li Ling is among 150 staff from the National Youth Council involved in this effort. They help make up the 3,000 or so enforcement officers and ambassadors deployed on a daily basis during this season.

Unlike the safe distancing enforcement officers, who will take down particulars of people flouting the rules, ambassadors focus more on educating the public.

“Our role is to encourage people who are out to maintain a safe distance from each other, and to encourage those who are loitering to return home,” she explained.


People loitering in public areas are encouraged to go home during this circuit breaker.


Li Ling’s team of eight were covering the vicinity around Pek Kio Market and Food Centre, where there were many elderly and people living in rental flats who were not used to the new measures.

She said: “I feel sad because the people we usually have to remind are the elderly, who either need a place to rest or just want to come out of their houses to meet their friends or for some exercise. As for those in rental flats, coming out might be the only fresh air they get. It really hit home that not everybody can stay at home comfortably.

“But I know it’s important to help those who might not understand why it’s so important, and to keep reminding people until it becomes a new habit for them.”


Although people can still buy takeaways, they are not allowed to eat at the hawker centres.


Thankfully, most people are receptive to the advice of the ambassadors. Some even come up to inform them where there is crowding (e.g. wet markets) and implore them to help enforce order.

“Usually the ones who scold us are the elderly men, who are used to sitting downstairs and chatting with their friends. It has happened once or twice,” said Li Ling.

The team had a difficult case involving a group that was stubborn and scolding the ambassadors. They eventually fled when the police were called in.

Facing difficult people is not the only challenge that safe distancing ambassadors face. The nature of the job involves walking the ground, sometimes under the sun, while wearing a mask.

“Your body moves from working from home to walking almost 20,000 steps a day. The tiredness sets in, but you get used to it after a while,” said Li Ling, whose shift was 9am-2pm from Friday to Sunday.


Where do ambassadors have their meals if they cannot eat at food centres? Li Ling’s team went to a Community Centre that had a space for them to eat while sitting comfortably apart.
Photo credits: Tan Li Ling


But for all the difficulties faced, Li Ling is glad she is seeing more Singaporeans beginning to practice safe distancing.

“I was a bit wary of the role at first, because I know by going out I am at risk of catching the virus. But it is nice to see members of the community who are more aware of the measures helping to remind others too.

“It is also encouraging when the people we see on our rounds recognise and thank us. Some remind us to stay healthy, and one food stall uncle made us smile by calling out the number of rounds we’ve made whenever we pass him. It’s the small things that make the hours go by faster.”

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