SINGAPORE - Businesses at Bugis Junction are reeling from the drastic drop in footfall since a cluster of Covid-19 cases emerged at the mall on Aug 24.
Infections there ballooned to 246 on Thursday (Sept 2), from 20 cases initially.
Some business owners and employees at units ranging from clothing stores to restaurants said footfall had plummeted by about 90 per cent in the past week, despite measures such as deep cleaning and quarantining.
Some shops have closed temporarily as it was not worth operating at present, or because employees had been infected with the virus.
The manager of a clothing store, who gave his name only as Mr Eric, said this had been the worst drop in customers that he has seen this year.
Ms Cheng Wei Li, 35, an employee at a gadget shop, also said footfall had been low.
"Maybe it will get better after one or two weeks," she said in Mandarin.
Mr Jaryl Foo, 22, who works at anime merchandise shop Otaku House, said he has seen close to zero sales in the past week.
"People want to avoid this place now," he said. "At first I was very concerned about the cases as I am working here, but at least I am vaccinated."
An employee who works at a food stall in the basement said many stalls had closed early because there was no business, and the queues at popular stalls had disappeared.
Said the 28-year-old woman, who did not want to be named: "Everyone is scared of this place. Normally the shops here have really long queues."
Like other staff at the mall, she was sent for a mandatory Covid-19 swab test, one of several measures taken by the mall to weed out infections.
In addition, close contacts of cases have been quarantined, and free testing was offered to members of the public who had visited shops or used the services at specific times.
The mall management has carried out deep cleaning and disinfection of the mall's toilets and common areas on all floors in the past week. The air-conditioning filters were also replaced, said a Bugis Junction spokesman.
The vaccination rate among Bugis Junction centre management staff is close to 100 per cent, and all tenants have completed a round of mandatory swab tests arranged by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The spokesman said in response to queries from The Straits Times: "We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and together with our tenants, we will take the necessary measures as advised by the authorities."
Those working at the mall said staff at department store BHG contributed to at least 70 cases, or more than a quarter of those in the Bugis Junction cluster.
BHG staff said employees who were stationed at the outlet when the cluster emerged had been issued quarantine orders and all workers present since then were on rotation from other outlets of the chain.
Like the rest of the mall, shoppers were sparse on the three levels of the BHG outlet when ST visited on Thursday afternoon.
Brand promoters and staff were also spread thin, with many stands unmanned and fewer than five promoters left to keep tabs on a few dozen brands on the third level of BHG.
It is understood that the majority of the outlet's original staff will return next week after completing their quarantine.
When contacted, a BHG spokesman said the outlet was reopened to shoppers on Wednesday (Sept 1), after a week of thorough cleaning.
Starting with Bugis Junction, safety ambassadors are being introduced in all their outlets to ensure shoppers and staff adhere to the rules. The store is also sanitised at least five times a day, including clothes that are returned after fitting.
Staff and brand promoters will undergo regular swab tests and temperature tests as well, added the spokesman.
The number of infections linked to Bugis Junction is creeping closer to the 253 cases in the KTV cluster, which emerged on July 12 and infected patrons and hostesses across many outlets. The KTV infections then sparked off Singapore's largest active Covid-19 cluster at the Jurong Fishery Port, which stands at 1,155 cases.
Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, vice-dean of global health and Infectious Diseases Programme leader at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the cases would continue to rise as Singapore has gradually relaxed restrictions on dining out and social gatherings.
He added that Bugis Junction is "a busy mall with high footfall, and therefore at potential risk of super-spreader events" and advised staff to see a doctor if they experience any symptoms, or test positive on a self-test using an antigen rapid testing kit.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from the Rophi Clinic, said the surge in cases at the mall could be because it was located at a busy intersection of two MRT lines.
He added that he was most concerned about unvaccinated cases in the cluster, who are more at risk.
"Consistently, individuals who have been vaccinated would have very mild disease," he said, pointing out that among the thousands of vaccinated individuals who had fallen ill with Covid-19, only one elderly patient had died.
He advised staff at the mall to practise social distancing, wear good quality masks that are tight against the face and to get vaccinated.
"This is progressively becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," he said.
"If you are vaccinated, you are generally safe. (In most cases) vaccination takes the teeth out of a bite, rendering the virus a harmless bark."