Singapore’s population largely relies on hawker centres for their meals.
Even though the crowd has thinned out since the pandemic, and dining in is currently prohibited, many would eventually dine at hawker centres and eateries once they reopen.
Recently, the National Environment Agency, in a conscious effort to help Singapore transition to a “more socially conscious, self-service concept”, stated that diners at hawker centres will face fines from Sept 1 if they do not clear up their spaces after meals (Mandatory for diners to return trays, clear own litter from June, May 15).
While these measures will certainly help with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the cleanliness of cutlery and plates in these places demands heightened attention as well.
It is known that saliva can carry and transmit several diseases. A recent scientific study has indicated that the Sars-CoV-2 virus can not only infect mouth cells, but also the fluid generated in the mouth. The fluid (saliva) can transfer the virus to other people and spread to other parts of the body.
Suffice it to say that cutlery and utensils that come in contact with saliva may continue to harbour the virus from a carrier or an infected individual if not cleaned properly.
Additionally, the placement of plates and cutlery could be better managed as well.
It is common to see people picking plates from a stack and cutlery from a container, where they are placed upright and close together, and more than one can be touched. These give a chance for transmission of the virus and other germs.
In Singapore, there is no evidence yet of transmission of Covid-19 via hawker centres, leading to cluster formations or otherwise.
However, with the mutations of the virus, rapid spread and chances of reinfection or infection in people who have been vaccinated, it would be prudent to take necessary precautions before dining at hawker centres or eateries is allowed.
I strongly urge the authorities to make necessary regulations in this matter and follow through.
If possible, have dishwashers or steamers that can adequately clean utensils, or vending machines for dispensing plates and cutlery. Providing biodegradable disposable cutlery and plates could also be an option.
Overall, this matter must be addressed with all seriousness not only in the current circumstances but even after the pandemic, for long-term public health.
Sneha Sundar Rajan (Dr)