The pace of life slowed visibly across Singapore yesterday, as a state of heightened alert spurred by a surge in local Covid-19 cases put the brakes on dining out and other recreational activities.
Streets were considerably emptier of traffic while hawker centres and coffee shops lost some of their bustle under the new restrictions that allow only takeaways or deliveries for the next four weeks.
Places that offered mask-off personal care services, such as facials and make-up services, had to stop, as did fitness studios providing indoor mask-off activities, such as rhythm cycling.
In schools, in-person co-curricular activities were cancelled, and only individual activities outdoors or in well-ventilated areas were allowed without masks during physical education classes. Cinema capacities were reduced.
This time around, wet markets were feeling more of the pinch than when Singapore was last in this phase between May 16 and June 20.
Many stalls selling fresh fish and seafood at wet markets in places such as Telok Blangah, Geylang Bahru, Amoy Street, Toa Payoh West and Potong Pasir were closed as a result of a large cluster linked to the country's main fishery port.
The authorities require all stallholders selling fresh fish and seafood at markets managed by the National Environment Agency, or operators appointed by the agency, to have a negative polymerase chain reaction test before they can open for business.
There were 162 new local Covid-19 cases yesterday, of which 87 were linked to the Jurong Fishery Port cluster. This brings the total number of cases in that cluster to 560.
Fishmongers open for business yesterday said they had to convince their customers that it was safe to buy seafood from them.
A seller in Kovan, Madam Teh Beng Guat, 51, told The Straits Times she had to keep reassuring the few customers she saw that she could reopen her stall because both she and her husband, Mr Tan Chin Hak, 57, had tested negative for Covid-19.
Temporary fencing to facilitate mandatory TraceTogether check-ins was also put up at a number of markets yesterday, such as Geylang Bahru Market and Food Centre, Telok Blangah Crescent Block 11 Market and Food Centre, and Kovan 209 Market and Food Centre.
Though there were queues at chicken rice stalls in Telok Blangah and Tiong Bahru hawker centres, crowds were generally much thinner than when people could dine in.
Cinema operators and food and beverage (F&B) players that ST spoke to said the renewed restrictions were disruptive, especially as the country had only recently emerged from phase two (heightened alert).
Ms Karen Tan, founder of independent cinema The Projector, said the measures "present a material challenge to the sustainability of our operations", impacting both screenings and food and beverage sales.
She said it is seeking government assistance on rental relief and for cinemas to be pegged at the higher rate of 50 per cent funding from the Jobs Support Scheme, similar to that for the F&B industry.
In the meantime, the company is pushing its merchandise and an adopt-a-seat initiative to make up for the shortfalls.
Meanwhile, rhythm cycling company Absolute Cycle told customers it would be shut until Aug 18.
Public servant Chua Meiyee, 30, said she was disappointed that the studio was closing again when it had only recently reopened. "Even when the previous restrictions were lifted, the classes were tough to book due to smaller class sizes," she added. The latest measures have spurred her to rent a bike from the studio instead.
Some asked why the restrictions were so tough when the authorities were only recently talking about dealing with the virus as endemic and as a part of life.
Student G. Shaamini, 21, who was at Toa Payoh West Market and Food Centre in Lorong 1 Toa Payoh to buy food, said: "A month ago, the Government said that it had confidence that we could continue with our lives despite the number of daily cases but, within a month, we are back to square one."
On Wednesday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post that the Jurong Fishery Port cluster had been the reason Singapore had to tighten its measures.
While fishmongers and stall assistants were going about earning an honest living, he said, they were infected at the port. "As they went on to work at various markets around the island, many more cases in the community were seeded," he said, adding that markets are frequented by seniors, many of whom have not been vaccinated.
"This is most worrying, and we are at risk of an uncontrollable rise in cases, which could potentially result in many severe illnesses or even deaths. So we need to pre-emptively tighten up social activities."
- Additional reporting by Baey Zo-Er, Deepa Sundar and Kevin Lim