Businesses in Hougang Avenue 8 take a hit after another Covid-19 cluster found in the area

Shop owners have given feedback that there is less foot traffic in the vicinity of Block 683 in Hougang Avenue 8. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

SINGAPORE - Businesses in Hougang Avenue 8 have taken a hit after a cluster of Covid-19 cases was discovered at the Giant supermarket at Block 683, with seven cases announced on Thursday (Aug 19).

It is just across the road from where a cluster was found in June at Block 506.

With that discovery, visitors and staff at eight Housing Board blocks in the area were made to undergo Covid-19 swab tests to prevent spread in the community.

While the Block 506 cluster, which had 13 cases, was announced as closed on July 1, Madam Michelle Koh said that foot traffic has fallen significantly following the spate of cases in the area.

The 58-year-old rents a market stall at Hougang Village near the affected Giant supermarket on the weekends to sell plants and gardening supplies.

"Nobody dares to go to the market. I had no customers at all; it's a big impact on my business," Madam Koh said in Mandarin.

There has been no announcement of mandatory mass testing after the current Giant supermarket cluster was found. More than 75 per cent of Singapore residents have been fully vaccinated.

However, Giant Singapore said the store was closed immediately for deep cleaning on Tuesday, with staff who were identified as close contacts of infected cases placed in quarantine.

Other staff who worked at the store in the seven days preceding Aug 17 were asked to remain home and closely monitor their health for 14 days.

When The Straits Times visited Block 683 at 9.45am on Saturday, there were people eating at the nearby coffee shop and shopping in the wet market.

Ms Cheng Chin Ngek, 39, who was at the coffee shop, said she was not worried about the crowd, as she is fully vaccinated.

"It is still very crowded and we need to queue up to get our food. I think people have already taken precautions and have been vaccinated, so they feel more safe," said Ms Cheng, who is currently unemployed.

Giant Singapore said the store was closed immediately for deep cleaning on Aug 17. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

Mr Chan See Ngo, 81, who has operated a Chinese medical supply store at Block 682 since 1988, said business is down at least 20 per cent. But it may not be because of the nearby cluster.

He said in Mandarin: "My business is definitely affected because people do not dare to come out (since the pandemic started)."

He added that it was more crowded than usual on Saturday because residents were shopping for Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival), which falls on Sunday, as they need to perform rites, make food offerings and have gatherings.

People shopping at a fruits store at Block 682 along Hougang Avenue 4 on Aug 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

Mr Chan said the pandemic has been tough on him and he has decided to listen to his children and close his store for good next month.

"Because of the pandemic, the economy is bad and businesses are suffering. They can't make a profit but still have to pay rent. Everyone is having a hard time."

Ms Chen Kin Yoon, 50, who works at a Chinese food stall at the Block 682 coffee shop, said that business has fallen by at least 30 per cent since the Giant supermarket cluster was detected.

"There are not many people coming to our stall because they avoid coming out," she said in Mandarin.

Foot traffic in the vicinity of Block 683 Hougang Avenue 8 on Aug 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

Mr Darryl David, the Ang Mo Kio GRC MP for the ward where the Giant supermarket is located, told ST that his team has carried out additional cleaning outside the supermarket and the surrounding public areas, to reassure residents and ensure their safety.

But he has received feedback from shop owners that there is less foot traffic now.

"When something happens at a particular place, people feel afraid and uncertain of visiting those places," he said.

"But based on my interaction with residents and vendors... there's a sense of acceptance that these things happen. They understand and know this is not something that is anyone's fault."

Mr Gerald Giam, the Aljunied GRC MP for the ward where Block 506 is located, said he visited Blocks 501 to 533 on Friday and spoke to residents.

"Most residents are taking the latest developments in their stride, while taking the necessary precautions like getting vaccinated and masking up," he added.

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