At a time when connecting face-to-face isn’t as simple as we are used to, we have been taking the opportunity to catch up with members of our ITIC community, to find out how they are navigating the current crisis.
In our second instalment of ITIC Industry Insights, Dexter Tan, Group Executive Director of EMA Global, talks us through how coronavirus is being handled in Singapore and shares his thoughts on how travel insurance will be perceived in the future.
Q: How have you adapted to working from home? Where are you today?
Hello everyone, it’s Dexter here from EMA Global. I’m talking to you here from Singapore. So, I’m at home doing this video, but I was in the office earlier today because, right now, in Singapore, we’re still allowed to go to the office, but only for essential services – and we are still one of them.
Q: What are the major issues pertaining to your country as a result of the virus?
We are on what is called a ‘circuit breaker’ here in Singapore, which is essentially closure or lockdown of the country, and only essential services are allowed to operate – these include hospitals, full-service restaurants (although they are only allowed to do takeaways), repair centres and such. That means that schools are closed, preschools included, so there are a lot of young kids at home giving their parents a lot of trouble these days.
Q: How is the healthcare system in Singapore managing the coronavirus?
Our healthcare system is taking the virus pretty well – a big shout out to our heroes on the frontline who are working day in, day out to make sure that things are kept in good order. As of this video, we have had 28,000 cases and about 22 deaths. For the last two weeks, we’ve seen triple-digit new cases, but single-digit or low teens for local infections. What this means is that our 1.3 million foreign workers are the ones who get the bulk of the infections. It’s very unfortunate because these are the guys who essentially built our country. I mean, a big part of them are construction workers, so our government has done a lot to help these people. We have housed the recovered ones in hotels and cruise ships and made them as comfortable as they can be; while for the rest of them who are still infected, we have basically utilised army camps, conference centres, as well as large unpopulated areas that have been converted to treat them.
Q: How does the country plan to move forward in the coming weeks?
Our circuit breaker is targeted to conclude on 8 June, but we are still meant to observe measures, which we shall call ‘the new normal’. This includes social distancing, putting on your mask whenever you’re out in public or in a workspace. Large gatherings and meetings are still discouraged. So, I think we will still rely heavily on televideo and teleconferencing. Temperature checks will still go out everywhere and I believe contact tracing will still be carried out, even though the circuit breaker has been lifted.
At the moment, before you enter any premises, you have to do a contact tracing form. So, you either do this manually – give them your name and phone number and where you’ve been – or you can do it electronically. And pretty much all of Singapore is on this trace together app that the country has developed. It’s optional at the moment, so you still don’t need to tell them exactly where you’ve been – but it’s highly encouraged, and it’s just for contact tracing so that, in the event that a cluster breaks out, the ministry can reach out to you. And then you know that, hey, you’ve got to come and get tested.
Q: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your products and services to date?
This Covid-19 pandemic has affected our services. It has truly tested our resilience because there are a lot of travel restrictions and a lot of assistance services that we could not put out in the medevac and repatriation services. In Singapore right now, during this lockdown period, we’re only allowed to transport Singaporeans and PRS permanent residents in and out of the country. However, there are instances where we have written to the Ministry of Health to allow our escorts to be excused from the two-week mandatory quarantine period whenever they travel in and out of the country. We appeal on the grounds of it being a medevac flight and our doctors are basically doing transfers and do not leave the aircraft at all. And so the ministry has very kindly allowed us to perform some of our medevac flights.
Q: What do you think the future of the travel industry will look like?
We estimate that the travel industry will probably pick up towards the fourth quarter of this year. But it also depends very heavily on whether a vaccine or a cure is found for this. We also feel that business travel will probably take priority over leisure travel, although there is an opinion that leisure travel will probably be taken up quicker by the younger crowd – the millennials – rather than more senior generation people.
Q: What should be the focus of travel insurance companies in the immediate present?
While the events are still unfolding, it is our belief that interest should take this opportunity to digitise their operations and planning purposes. To do this effectively, they must first understand the likely impact of the pandemic. We expect different lines of businesses to be impacted to varying degrees.
Over time, after the pandemic, people will likely become more conscious or more aware of the need for travel insurance services, so travel insurance will probably be no longer optional – but to them, it should be a hygiene factor, how can you travel without travel insurance? During this period of time, we have seen an unprecedented cancellation of trips, of hotel bookings, of flights and those without travel insurance have really been caught out of pocket.
Q: Looking ahead to a time when we can meet face-to-face once again, can you tell us what you enjoy most about the International Travel & Health Insurance Conferences?
We are really looking forward to catching up again next year, 2021. It’s quite unfortunate that we didn’t get to the Singapore ITIC this year. The best part of ITIC is really catching up with old friends and meeting new acquaintances. It’s always a blast. It’s always a good time to get away, to make new friends, all the time, always.
From everyone at EMA Global, please take care of yourselves and your family. And if there’s anything that you need, please reach out to us and we’ll see what we can do to help.
Dexter Tan – Group Executive Director, EMA Global
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