SINGAPORE - It was not the usual first day of the Qing Ming Festival, with mostly no large crowds at the Mandai Columbarium this year.
Each floor of the eight blocks had no more than about 10 people, with many families well spaced out and no big groups of people gathering when The Straits Times visited at around 1pm on Sunday (April 4).
But there was an instance of crowding at Block I at around 2.30pm, with officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) telling visitors to put on their masks.
Still, visitors at the columbarium said the situation this year is unlike pre-pandemic times, when the walkways were usually packed with families, especially on the first day of the annual Chinese tomb-sweeping festival.
Mr Wilis Ho, 49, who was with his son, said he was surprised at the numbers there this year.
He said: "It used to be very packed with big groups of people moving around. Social distancing would definitely be a problem in previous years. I expected there would be a lot of people and was prepared to have to come back another day, but I was quite surprised when I saw the situation here."
Many people, including Mr Ho, did not visit the columbarium last year due to the uncertainty as Covid-19 infections rose. Last year's festival on April 4 was just a few days before the circuit breaker kicked in.
Mr Ho said for this year, the measures put in place to control crowds have helped greatly in keeping the number of visitors small.
Last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said visitors driving to Mandai columbarium during peak periods such as the weekends are required to register their vehicles with valid e-appointments to be allowed to enter and park at the premises.
This is the first time that such a system was put in place.
Visitors were also told to minimise the family size visiting to two people per household, and to avoid crowding around the prayer and joss paper burning areas at the columbarium.
Most visitors were pleased with the new arrangement and believe that such measures should continue even after Covid-19.
They described the previous years as hardly having space to move around and families standing back-to-back in the narrow corridors between the columns of niches.
Sales executive Yap Teck Khim, 53, who carpooled with his siblings to the facility, said: "We booked a slot the moment the bookings opened because we expected huge crowds. But I'm very happy that the experience was very orderly.
"I think this system should really continue because it helps to manage the people here."
Heavy traffic congestion had been reported early last week in the lead-up to the Qing Ming weekend, with traffic building up at the facility at about 9am.
NEA said last Monday it was aware of the "slow-moving traffic" near the facility that lasted about three hours.
Another visitor, Ms Sherry Lee, said she had checked the live traffic updates on the NEA website last weekend and the long queues she saw had worried her as her family was planning to drive to the columbarium.
The 18-year-old student said: "We come here every year and usually it would be so crowded that it takes 10 to 20 minutes to take the lift to the higher floors. But today, we didn't have to wait at all and got in easily. We like this new arrangement of having to make appointments because there are much fewer people."