The fearful Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) first emerged in December 2019. Swiftly, it invaded across countries and continents worldwide.
By mid-March 2020, about 175,000 people have been infected and more than 6,600 have succumbed to the disease globally, surpassing the fatality rate of previous two coronavirus outbreaks – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The unanticipated COVID-19 outbreak has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 30 January 2020 and 11 March 2020 respectively. In the same vein, Singapore has raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level from “yellow” to “orange” on 7 February 2020.
The rapidly evolving COVID-19 has certainly elevated the need for Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in all sectors from private companies to government agencies to universities to schools to shopping malls.
Without a doubt, the well-being, health and safety of the Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD) community remains our top priority. With the “orange” DORSCON level, SUTD’s taskforce swung into action to implement BCP consistent with the Singapore government’s directions and advisories. Key personnel from Human Resource, Information Technology, Student Affairs, Communications as well as Security and Facility departments are involved too. Our risk assessment is constantly updated with latest developments on the COVID-19 so that relevant measures and mitigating strategies can be taken and our business operations are managed well.
SUTD has deployed various precautionary measures which include twice-daily temperature taking (morning and afternoon) for all SUTD staff and students as well as health and travel declaration in the online system. All visitors to SUTD must go through temperature screening prior to entry to any SUTD facility. They have to make mandatory health and travel declaration online as well. Thermal scanners have been placed at SUTD’s campus centre for temperature screening. Those who are unwell are advised to consult a doctor. Adequate supplies of hygiene products are made available. Care packs comprising sanitizers are given to staff. Masks are readily provided to anyone who needs them. Stepped-up cleaning of campus with disinfectant in high traffic areas and workspaces, too. Quarantine, Leave of Absence (LOA)/Stay-Home Notice (SHN) protocols are observed for those in high-risk groups as stipulated by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The split team arrangement for staff was embarked on 17 February 2020 for viability, operational efficiency and crosscontamination prevention between our teams should any infection occur. Staff seamlessly transit to working from home and provided with the necessary equipment and support for telecommuting. Collaboration platforms, such as Skype for Business, Zoom and video chat apps, are used extensively for meetings and presentations involving team members and/or external parties in different locations.
The following guidelines have been applied for effective segregation of teams in SUTD:
a) Designating every staff and faculty members to Team A and Team B, including external vendors, suppliers, contractors, consultants and support teams that we need to meet up frequently for work. For e.g. if a consultant is designated as Team A, only Team A staff members can have contact with the consultant.
b) Setting up of two teams (Team A and Team B) in each department on oneweek alternative schedule, i.e. Team A to work one week from home and Team B to work one week in the office.
c) Composition of team should take job functions into account.
d) Physical segregation of Team A and Team B to avoid the risk of infection between teams.
e) Placement of teams in two different office locations on campus for the split teams should both teams (i.e. Team A and Team B) need to be in the office due to crucial functions.
f) Practising of social distancing.
g) Avoiding close physical contact with those on the opposite team, e.g. not seated in the same office, not attending the same meetings and events as well as not having lunch together, etc.
h) No swapping of team members throughout the duration of the segregation once designated.
i) Identification of different teams by coloured stickers, i.e. Team A – yellow, Team B – orange. Please refer to Table 1 for the illustration of segregation of both teams under Plan 1 where teams are on alternative schedule and Plan 2 where both teams are working in office.
Classes in SUTD continue with the arrangement for e-learning/online delivery for the larger class size (i.e. more than 50 students). To facilitate students’ work, wider spacing between project groups has been arranged. Similarly, our faculty members’ teaching schedules are not affected. To prevent the spread of infection, if faculty members are in Team A, and this is the week where Team B faculty are working on site, Team A faculty should not go into their office where their Team B faculty are working. To minimize disruption to research work, researchers and graduate students are in the same team as their faculty supervisors. All overseas student exchange and summer programmes to high-risk countries have been cancelled. As these programmes are not credit-bearing, it will not affect our students’ graduation.
For ease of contact tracing, it is a requirement for attendance taking for all classes and meetings. Large scale events and activities are cancelled or suspended. SUTD Open House has gone digital too! For those who have missed it on 22 February 2020, do experience it via https://openhouse.sutd.edu.sg/.
Last but not least, we believe that communication is the key to diffusing panic and fear during this challenging time. Updates and necessary precautions are shared with all SUTD staff and students regularly. SUTD underscores the importance of exercising personal responsibility and good personal hygiene. For example, if anyone in the office is not well, he/she should immediately seek medical attention and stay at home
to recover. Hearing of accurate news from official sources and not spreading unverified information or false news which can cause unnecessary panic have been reinforced to all.
As we continue with our untiring efforts to conquer the coronavirus, let’s remain vigilant, practise good hygiene, be socially responsible, stay safe and healthy!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Prof Yeo Kiat Seng
Associate Provost, Research & International Relations
Singapore, University of Technology & Design (SUTD), IEEE Fellow
Assistant Director, Research & International Relations, SUTD