More people going maskless in S'pore but most customer-facing staff still donning masks

While businesses may not have any policy mandating the wearing of masks, some staff are still choosing to keep their masks on. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Shoppers at VivoCity mall on Monday. There were roughly equal numbers of people wearing masks and those who were not. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore has made masks optional in most settings but many customer-facing staff are still keeping theirs on. 

Ten days after the rules here were relaxed, many who work in settings such as hair salons, childcare centres and supermarkets continue to have their masks on, though most businesses that The Straits Times spoke to said that they have not put in place any policy mandating this. Employees can make their own decisions, they said.

In a significant step towards living with Covid-19, the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 announced a fortnight back that masks would not be required in most indoor settings from Aug 29.

Masking up is now mandatory only in healthcare settings and on public transport. These comprise healthcare facilities, residential care homes and the indoor premises in hospitals and polyclinics.

Public transport commuters must keep their masks on when riding on buses and trains and in indoor facilities such as the boarding areas of bus interchanges. 

Employees from salon chain QB House told ST that they had received instructions to keep their masks on while cutting customers' hair.

A female employee, who declined to be identified, said: "Our management told us to keep our masks on for the time being, since we are dealing with so many customers on a daily basis.

"Anyway we work in an air-conditioned environment so it's not uncomfortable and I'm quite used to wearing a mask already over the past two years." 

At haarAttic hair salon, which has outlets in Keong Saik Road and Boat Quay, employees are encouraged to wear masks, though it is not compulsory to do so.

Its managing director Chen Yii Wei said this comes after feedback from customers.

"We do this so that (employees) can protect both themselves and customers," he said. "Most customers do feel more secure if the staff have their mask on. We see this as a new normal... as protection is both ways."

A similar policy is implemented at all Star Learners' 42 childcare centres, according to the chain's deputy head Audrey Chen.

"Even as mask-wearing is made optional, the majority of our teachers still prefer to mask up to lower the risks of transmission, if any, to the little ones they care for daily.

"As the nation moves to become more Covid-19-resilient, I believe all front-facing staff will eventually not have to wear masks," she said.

Ms Chen added that about three-quarters of employees opt to keep their masks on and almost all are vaccinated, which gives parents peace of mind.

When ST visited the FairPrice outlet at Toa Payoh Central on Tuesday, most of the supermarket's workers were masked up.

Responding to queries from ST, a spokesman for supermarket chain FairPrice said: "FairPrice operates in compliance with the requirements set by the authorities.

"The wearing of masks is optional for both customers and staff in-store, with the exception of staff involved in the preparation of food and drinks, such as promoters and counter service staff, as well as staff stationed at our outlets located in hospitals and medical centres."

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Some businesses that have made masks voluntary are leaning closer to the Government's overall Covid-19 posture.

At another salon - Love Hair Singapore - employees have largely ditched their masks, as long as their customers are comfortable.

Love Hair Singapore director Toni Ovenden said: "The staff are aware it is their choice and so far, they all seem to be embracing being mask-free. Due to the nature of our business, it is necessary to see people's face shapes and connect with them personally and being able to see each other's face is part of that.

"I feel as our clientele is predominantly international (and) most have already travelled and experienced a mask-free life, we're ready to embrace it and get on with our lives. However, if anyone feels uncomfortable, we are more than happy to put a mask on during his or her appointment."

At the Timezone gaming arcade in VivoCity shopping mall, many parents made use of the September school holidays to take their children out.

When ST was there on Monday afternoon, the crowd was split roughly down the middle in terms of those wearing masks and those who did not.

An arcade manager who wanted to be known only as Jonny said he was fine going unmasked.

The 38-year-old said: "Our management has said that they would be following whatever the government policy was, and since everyone is already vaccinated, I don't think there's much to worry about.

"We, of course, still have our scheduled cleaning and wipe-down operations but on the whole, I think you can see that many people are getting used to going around maskless now."

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