The streets of Chinatown, usually bustling with tourists and locals, were quiet yesterday as people steered clear of the area amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Businesses in the area, which say they are particularly popular with tourists from China, told The Straits Times of taking a painful hit, with several shop owners saying sales are down by half.
And they are worried things may get worse.
Mrs Zhao Hongmin, 50, owner of Orchid Chopsticks, which sells traditional Chinese gifts and souvenirs at Chinatown Street Market in Trengganu Street, said the fall in sales and customers started after the Chinese New Year weekend.
"I have four shops in Chinatown and one in Suntec City. The shop in Suntec City earned $16 on Feb 4 compared with $400 to $500 in the past. If this continues, I may have to speak to the management to reduce the rent because we won't be able to survive," she said.
At her Trengganu Street shop yesterday, the workers had no customers to attend to when ST was there. "Every customer who visits the shop is especially important to us now, but there is nothing much the staff can do because there are hardly any customers," said Mrs Zhao.
ST spoke to other shop owners at Chinatown Street Market during a cleaning session attended by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Ng Chee Meng to ensure shops were meeting cleaning standards in the light of the coronavirus outbreak.
Best Souvenirs Store retail assistant Zainon Jaffar said that business has been very bad since Chinese New Year.
The 56-year-old said: "It has dropped by more than 50 per cent. Tourists make up 85 per cent of our customer base, and we have seen significantly fewer of them."
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health revealed the first cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus here.
Two of them work at Yong Thai Hang, a Chinese health products shop in Cavan Road in Lavender which caters to Chinese tour groups, while another is a tour guide who had taken groups to the same shop. A maid working for one of the women was also infected.
Yesterday, another three people related to this cluster were found to have been infected, MOH said.
A souvenir shop owner, who declined to be named, said he is now concerned about interacting with tourists from China.
"I want business to improve, but at the same time, I am afraid to entertain Chinese tourists because of the uncertainty that they may be unwell and carrying the virus."
He said he might close the shop for a few days if more cases surface in Singapore.
Mr Ng said the feedback he has received from shop owners in Chinatown is that business has slowed by half.
"Tripartite partners like the Ministry of Manpower and NTUC, as well as employers, are looking at how to help businesses defray business costs and augment available labour," said Mr Ng.