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Response To "Staff Handling Passports At Risk" (ST, 4 February 2020) and "Fingerprint Scanners Pose Health Risk During Current Crisis" (ST, 5 February 2020)

The Straits Times
13 February 2020

ICA committed to safety of officers and travellers at the checkpoints

We thank Dr Alan K. Koh and Ms Irene Low for their feedback (Staff handling passports at risk, 4 Feb; and Fingerprint scanners pose health risk during current crisis, 5 Feb).

To reduce the risk of virus transmission for travellers and staff at the checkpoints, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has stepped up the frequency of cleaning the checkpoint premises, in particular the immigration clearance counters, and sanitising the fingerprint scanners.

Hand sanitisers are also available at the arrival and departure halls for members of the public and staff to use.

ICA officers at the manual counters need to physically examine passports to ensure that they have not been altered or tampered with.

Our officers are regularly reminded to observe good personal hygiene, such as to frequently washing their hands with soap, not to touch their face unnecessarily, and to seek medical treatment immediately if they feel unwell.

Every officer at the counter has been provided an individual bottle of hand sanitiser to use, and is encouraged to use it frequently in the course of their duty.

They have been told that if a traveller to whom they are attending appears unwell, they should stop attending to the traveller, take precautions, and refer the traveller to the health screening area for further assessment.

ICA will progressively implement iris and facial biometric technology at the automated and manned counters at our checkpoints from April.

Travellers who have already enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with ICA will be able to enjoy contactless immigration clearance.

ICA is committed to ensuring the health and safety of our officers and travellers at the checkpoints.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust our measures in accordance with the Ministry of Health guidelines.

Patrick Ong
Head, Public & Internal Communications
Corporate Communications Division
Immigration & Checkpoints Authority

<Original Letters>

The Straits Times
4 February 2020

Staff handling passports at risk

I am deeply concerned for security staff at Changi Airport who are handling dozens, if not hundreds, of passports and boarding passes each shift.

It does not strike me as absolutely essential for the staff to touch these documents - which are difficult to disinfect without special equipment - in order to perform their duties.

Instead, instruct travellers to hold their documents for visual inspection or hold them under or on scanners, without needing staff to touch these documents. This would make it easier for staff to perform their duties with peace of mind, and decrease, however slightly, the risk of virus transmission during this period.

As a frequent traveller and concerned citizen, I urge the authorities to re-examine current practices for ways to improve safety and increase peace of mind for the staff and travellers who continue to make use of Singapore's world-class airport.

Dr Alan K. Koh


The Straits Times
5 February 2020

Fingerprint scanners pose health risk during current crisis

My family arrived in Changi Airport Terminal 3 last Thursday, and noted that hand sanitisers were not provided for travellers at the arrival and departure automated clearance lanes.

We also wondered how frequently the fingerprint scanners at the airport are sanitised, as they could be a conduit for transmitting viruses from an infected person to others.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) may want to consider non-contact screening, such as facial recognition as implemented by Japan.

During this coronavirus crisis, sanitisation should become part of our standard procedures, to ensure that places with high human traffic are cleaned and sanitised regularly.

It is impossible for ICA to sanitise the scanners each time a person passes through.

In view of the increasing number of infected persons, ICA should immediately assess the current immigration control gates to ensure that all machines are sanitised regularly at least or consider doing away with auto-scanning.

The officers manning the counters should at least wear gloves and masks. And this should also apply to Singapore's other immigration checkpoints.

Irene Low