Coronavirus: Singapore

Footfall plunges at Bugis Junction as cluster grows

Some shops close temporarily as they find it is not worth operating at present

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 254 yesterday, 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.

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 long queues at popular stalls had disappeared.

Like other staff at the mall, the 28-year-old woman, who did not want to be named, was sent for a mandatory Covid-19 swab test.

Other measures carried out by the mall include disinfection of common areas, replacing air-conditioning filters and quarantining close contacts of cases, said a Bugis Junction spokesman.

Nearly all of Bugis Junction centre management staff have been vaccinated, the spokesman added.

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 they were temporarily brought in from other outlets of the chain, while the usual workers stationed when the cluster emerged were in quarantine.

Like the rest of the mall, shoppers were sparse on the three levels of the BHG outlet when ST visited on Thursday afternoon. Staff were also spread thin, with many stands unmanned.

It is understood that the majority of the outlet's original staff will return next week after completing their quarantine.

A BHG spokesman said the outlet was reopened to shoppers on Wednesday, after a week of thorough cleaning. The store is now sanitised five times daily, and all staff will undergo regular swab tests and temperature tests.

The number of infections linked to Bugis Junction has surpassed 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.

Infectious disease experts said cases at Bugis Junction were likely to be high as it is a busy mall with high footfall.

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 restrictions on dining out and social gatherings have been eased.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from the Rophi Clinic, advised staff at the mall to practise social distancing, wear good-quality and tight-fitting masks and to get vaccinated.

"This is progressively becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," he said.

"(In most cases) vaccination takes the teeth out of a bite, rendering the virus a harmless bark."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2021, with the headline 'Footfall plunges at Bugis Junction as cluster grows'. Subscribe