Hawkers try to clear food before closure of Chinatown Complex due to Covid-19 cluster

The Ministry of Health, in a late night notice on Sept 11, said 66 cases have been linked to a cluster at Chinatown Complex.
The Ministry of Health, in a late night notice on Sept 11, said 66 cases have been linked to a cluster at Chinatown Complex.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The sudden announcement on Saturday night (Sept 11) that Chinatown Complex would be closed at 3pm on Sunday for cleaning and disinfection resulted in business at the food complex there dropping by some 90 per cent, hawkers said.

The Ministry of Health (MOH), in a late night notice on Saturday, said 66 cases have been linked to a cluster there.

Most of those who tested positive are stallholders who work at Chinatown Complex, which has about 700 stalls.

"We received the notice to close at 3pm today at 9pm yesterday," said Mr Johnny Tng, who sells prawn noodles. "I had already prepared my ingredients by then."

At 2pm, Mr Tng was sitting forlornly in front of his stall, with no customers in sight.

Much of his food will have to be either thrown away or taken home to give away to friends and family, he said, estimating his loss from the cost of unused raw ingredients to be about $90.

"The announcement was in all the papers," the 49-year-old said. "I am not surprised at all at the turnout today."

Of the 66 Covid-19 cases linked to the cluster, 58 are stallholders and stall assistants. Four cleaners and one safe distancing ambassador, as well as three household contacts of infected cases, comprise the rest.

Those who tested positive have already been isolated, but the 3pm closure of the stalls and wariness of the virus still led to about 80 per cent of the stalls at the food centre not opening on Sunday.

"We were told too late," said hawker Ivy Leong, who is in her 50s.

"We only opened because we had to clear the roast duck that we prepared on Saturday. We managed to sell about seven out of nine by calling our regulars and friends and by selling them cheaper."

Chinatown Complex will be closed till 11.59pm on Wednesday, which translates to about 3½ days of business lost to hawkers.

Of the 66 Covid-19 cases linked to the cluster, 58 are stallholders and stall assistants. PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

The hawkers will have to go for compulsory polymerase chain reaction swabs during the closure.

People who checked in with SafeEntry at Chinatown Complex from Sept 8 to 11 will be issued health risk alerts, and are encouraged to also go for tests, the MOH has said.

Ms Leong said: "With the closure, I'm more assured too because then we know if we are positive and the place is also cleaner. I feel lucky that it's only four days and not more."

Hawkers have had to do bi-weekly Covid-19 tests since August, and so the compulsory tests over the next few days will not be out of the ordinary for them.

Stall owners at Chinatown Complex market cleaning and preparing to close their stalls. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Mr Koo Fook Tho, who sells fruit juice at the centre and is also the vice-president of the Chinatown Complex Hawkers' Association, said all hawkers can do now is to cooperate as best as they can with the government measures.

"But we have learnt how to protect ourselves and all of us know how to regulate the crowd in front of our stalls. We also keep our masks on properly. I'm not too worried," the 68-year-old said.

Chinatown Complex is frequented by seniors, and many were at the food centre to have their regular chats with their friends on Sunday. But they kept their masks on, and even told passers-by not to walk around too much because of the virus.

Mr Chen Da Wen, 70, said the new normal means people should not make a big fuss of the rising cases, as he chomped down on a meal he had just bought.

"We are only at the first peak. It will get higher, but it's not a big deal. People all over the world, not just Singapore, are trying to move beyond the pandemic," he said.

Ms Leong, the roast duck seller, added: "I am not too worried because the virus is now already endemic. We have to open anyway or what will people eat? What will we, hawkers, eat?"

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, said on Facebook on Sunday that the authorities are aware of the inconvenience the situation brings to residents, especially seniors.

"Our grassroots volunteers will reach out to provide assistance to residents who need help.

"For the stallholders who are affected by the closure, we will also work with the hawkers' association and Jalan Besar Town Council to provide assistance where necessary," she said.