The Pek Kio Market and Food Centre has been ordered closed by the authorities as a precautionary measure and will be cleaned today and tomorrow amid investigations into a surge in gastric flu cases in the Owen Road area.
More than 180 cases of gastroenteritis, commonly known as gastric flu, have been reported in the Owen Road area as of Monday, the Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA), PUB and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore said yesterday.
Most of the patients recovered within a few days. Seven patients have been kept under observation at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, but are recovering well.
Investigations began after a doctor in the area reported to MOH last Thursday that his clinic had been seeing an unusual increase in gastric flu cases since May 16. Other clinics in the area also reported a similar increase.
Stool samples collected from patients tested positive for a virus called rotavirus, which causes gastric flu and is transmitted through consuming contaminated food and drinks, touching contaminated surfaces, or direct contact with an infected person.
Patients have sought medical help for symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain in the past week. Most of them lived near or had visited the Owen Road area.
Many also patronised the Pek Kio Market and Food Centre, which is popular with breakfast and lunchtime crowds. No specific stall there has been identified as the source and investigations are ongoing.
During the centre's closure, utensils, tables, chairs and food preparation surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected.
Several stalls were still open and patrons were having dinner when The Straits Times visited yesterday at 7pm, about an hour after the announcement of the planned closure. Some said they noticed hygiene problems at the centre.
Broker Jeremy Lin, 29, said he had complained to the NEA last year about the many pigeons eating leftover food and leaving droppings in the food centre.
Drinks stall operator Lee Cheow Leong, 54, said rats could also be found around the food centre, especially in the evenings.
"Some even climb up the pillars and onto the lights," he said.
Mr Foo Kai Jong, 56, a helper at a seafood stall, said he does not think the hawkers are to blame for the gastric flu cases. "None of the stallholders has fallen sick," he said.
Despite the outbreak, patrons said they will continue to eat at the food centre after it reopens on Friday.
A 69-year-old retiree, who gave his name only as Mr Bala, said this is the first time he has heard of such cases in his 52 years as a resident of the area. "I will still come and eat here. I know all of the stallholders," he said.