SINGAPORE - Safe distancing requirements amid the Covid-19 pandemic did not stop hundreds of shoppers from descending on the wet market at Chinatown Complex on Tuesday morning (Feb 2).
The shoppers, many of whom had come from places as far as Woodlands and Clementi, were hoping to stock up on popular seafood and steamboat dishes ahead of Chinese New Year reunion dinner next week - just like in previous years.
But this year, there is a cap of 300 visitors at any given time, a sign at the market shows.
When ST visited the market on Tuesday, more than 120 people spaced 1m apart were queueing to enter through one entrance that was manned by safe management officers. Shoppers told ST this was the first time they had to queue to enter the wet market.
At periodic intervals, about 20 shoppers were allowed into the wet market via this entrance. But by 11.30am, this entry restriction was lifted allowing more people to enter the basement wet market.
By noon, the wet market was packed. ST estimated that about 300 people were thronging the wet market by then.
Shoppers told ST they came for the value-for-money seafood and rare yong tau foo ingredients.
Housewife Sim Mei Ling, 67, queued for 20 minutes to buy fish paste from a yong tau foo stall as the item is not available elsewhere.
"I'm not worried about catching Covid-19 because I always stand far away from the crowd," she said.
Mr Hee Loy Sung, 60, came all the way from Woodlands to buy pomfret and grouper from the same fishmonger he patronises every year in Chinatown Complex.
"He processes the fish very well. I buy about 10 fish at one go," said Mr Hee, who works in the construction sector.
Another shopper who wants to be known only as Ms Tan, 64, visited the market yesterday as she thought she could beat the crowd. She likes the wet market as it offers a wide selection of ingredients.
Some stalls were more popular than others leading to crowding in some areas.
Ms Low Sai Teng, 64, who runs a seafood stall, said: "There have been twice as many customers since last weekend. By the time we close at 2pm, almost all our prawns are sold out."
Shorter queues were seen at stalls selling vegetables, eggs and other provisions.
"Fish and prawns can be frozen. But vegetables cannot last if people buy in advance," said vegetable stall owner Koh Chew Geok, 56.
"We tell our customers, don't visit during peak hours - especially before 9am. It gets so crowded, you can't walk down the main aisle," said Ms Chew Hui Min, 19, who helps out at her father's Song Fish Supplier stall.
When contacted, a spokesman from the National Environment Agency said it has stepped up safe management measures over the past week. Only about 300 visitors are allowed in the market at any given time.
Explaining why entry restriction at the main entrance was lifted at 11.30am, the spokesman said: "Access control is lifted when it is observed that the crowd has eased for the day."
Urging patrons to visit the market in Chinatown Complex during weekdays and non-peak hours, the agency said it will continue to monitor the situation and may implement further measures for crowd control.
Since Jan 15, more safe distancing ambassadors have been deployed in Chinatown to patrol the precinct daily. Said Ms Serene Tan, director of arts and cultural precincts at Singapore Tourism Board: "Police will step in to deal with any law and order incidents."
Control measures in place at other malls, shops in Chinatown
There were visible crowd control measures in place - SafeEntry check-ins, temperature scanning and safe distancing ambassadors - at various stalls in Pagoda Street, Temple Street and Trengganu Street when The Straits Times visited them on Tuesday afternoon.
No queues were observed at Chinatown Point, People's Park Complex and People's Park Centre, including at lunchtime.
Signs at People's Park Complex pointed to the different entrances located on each level of the shopping mall, where those wishing to enter could check in with SafeEntry.
Some exits at People's Park Centre were designated to be used only in the event of a fire or emergency.
Markings reminding customers to stand 1m apart from one another were seen on the ground in front of the main entrance to Chinatown Point.
There were also stickers with QR codes that customers queueing up could scan to speed up check-ins and check-outs.
Over at Pagoda Street, Temple Street and Trengganu Street, staff at stalls told ST that they have been seeing safe distancing ambassadors monitoring crowds more frequently, even up to eight times a day.
At decoration shop Tai Loong Super Quality in Temple Street, the entrance and exit were well designated and a staff member on duty was there to ensure customers used SafeEntry.
"When the shop is too full, we will ask customers to wait at the entrance," said Madam Wendy Ow, 55, who works at the shop.
"We have these measures because we are also afraid of catching Covid-19 and want to ensure that customers and staff stay safe," she added.
Additional reporting by Ng Wei Kai