Malls, supermarkets adjust to simplified Covid-19 rules but some remain cautious

Seats grouped in a tighter arrangement with markings removed at Our Tampines Hub on March 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Shoppers adhering to safe distancing markings in the FairPrice outlet at Our Tampines Hub on March 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - From Tuesday (March 15), safe distancing is not mandatory in places, such as supermarkets and malls, where patrons and workers continue to wear masks.

But shoppers at supermarket chain FairPrice will find that the familiar markings on the floor to space out the checkout lines have not been removed.

FairPrice is sticking to the safe distancing measures even though it is not required to do so.

"FairPrice is maintaining existing safe management measures to encourage safe social practices on our premises. Nonetheless, we continue to monitor the ever-evolving situation," said a spokesman.

Under streamlined measures which kicked in on Tuesday, safe distancing is encouraged but not compulsory for mask-on activities such as grocery shopping, attending worship sessions and visiting Singapore's parks.

Social distancing markers at common spaces in parks, like those in shelters at East Coast Park, have been removed.

Camping sites and barbecue pits managed by the National Parks Board (NParks) will also be reopened from Friday, subject to bookings, said Mr Chia Seng Jiang, group director for parks at NParks.

Nonetheless, he encouraged campers and barbecue pit users to observe safe management measures, such as wearing a mask except when engaging in strenuous exercise or consuming food, drink or medication, as well as observing a safe distance of at least 1m from other visitors.

Meanwhile, booking is no longer required to visit Tanjong, Palawan and Siloso beaches at Sentosa for entry or to use the beach courts there on weekends and public holidays.

"Guests can therefore enjoy Sentosa's beaches daily without bookings," said Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) in a statement on Monday, adding that safety rings will remain at the beaches, indicating spots where groups of up to five may gather.

"While it is not mandatory for our guests to use the safety rings, they serve as a visual marker to encourage safe distancing," said an SDC spokesman.

"To avoid overcrowding at any area on the beaches, beachgoers may be directed to another area if necessary."

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Safe distancing measures will "no longer (be) in place" in mosques from Thursday, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) on Facebook on Monday.

"We are pleased to announce that we are able to make adjustments to safe distancing for congregational prayers in mosques."

Muis said: "Moving forward, we will open up more spaces at mosques and will be providing more details in the coming weeks."

It added: "We will still continue with the booking of Friday prayer slots, bringing our own personal prayer items and wearing of masks."

Like FairPrice, others are also taking a cautious approach.

Social distancing markings could still be seen at common spaces in malls in Bishan and Katong visited by The Straits Times on Tuesday.

The floor of the atrium at Junction 8 in Bishan was still marked with tape. Benches at Parkway Parade in Marine Parade also had seats crossed out with tape.

People adhering to social distancing markers at a seating area in Parkway Parade on March 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: NICOLE CHEAH

ST also understands that the markers will not be removed in wet markets to encourage social distancing, even though it is not required as a mask-on setting.

Social distancing markers can still be found in hawker centres, where patrons remove their masks to dine in.

The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in Bright Hill Road remains cautious as the peak Qing Ming season - lasting from March 19 to April 17 - approaches.

Said a spokesman: "While the monastery is able to accommodate a higher number of visitors with the new guidelines announced, for the upcoming Qing Ming, the monastery will continue to take a stringent approach and err on the side of caution with crowd control measures."

These measures include having time slots with a maximum of 900 devotees per hour.

"With the extended operation hours, the total estimated capacity for the entire Qing Ming period is roughly 260,000 - almost on par with pre-pandemic numbers," she said, noting that the monastery would see about 250,000 visitors each Qing Ming season before the pandemic.

Staff removing social distancing markers at the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery on March 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Reverend Dominic Yeo, lead pastor at Trinity Christian Centre, said the church will not implement the changes immediately.

"We are taking the next few weeks to recalibrate our operations to be ready to welcome more people from the first week of April."

He added: "Our experience confirms that the online platform cannot replace face-to-face interaction and community life."

Engineer Samuel Lim, 65, said he was not concerned about the lack of social distancing between individuals wearing masks.

Mr Lim, who was at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, said: "If you ask me, two or five eating (together) at a table is about the same thing.

"It's a matter of time before Covid-19 becomes a way of life, I would think this is a good time to move on but I would be a little worried for those who are weak."

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Ms Han Wen, 33, who works as a barista at Parkway Parade, said that she would not invite friends over to her home unnecessarily, even though the streamlining also entails allowing five household visitors at any one time, rather than five a day.

"So I think, on a personal level, the impact isn't very big, but the impact will be on society's Covid-19 cases - I don't think there will be much changes to my daily life."

In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung described how the streamlining would bring people closer together, both for work and in their personal lives.

He said the ministry held its weekly staff meeting on Tuesday morning.

Although it still adopted a hybrid format, with half the senior staff physically present and the other half logged on via Skype, those in the room “could finally be seated close to one another, around a table”.

“Our masks need to be on, but we could hear each other clearly, look at one another’s expression (through the eyes).”

He added: “Many other little things in life can now resume. You can take a proper selfie without everyone trying to stand far apart; you can sit next to your friend on a park bench; you can pack lunch to eat with a colleague in the office pantry. And we can start to play team sports.”

Yet the key measures that help manage the pandemic – masking, group size control, vaccinations – remain firmly in place, he said.

“Nevertheless, today marks an important psychological shift in this long fight against Covid-19. As cases continue to fall and the situation in hospitals gradually improves, normal life will resume further.”

The streamlined measures also apply to team sports, some of which are now finally able to resume in full. New guidelines allow for up to 30 fully vaccinated persons to participate in activities at selected sports facilities.

The list of approved private facilities is still being finalised. While public sports facilities that can accommodate the new measures received bookings for team sports such as 5-a-side football on Tuesday night, there were none for activities that featured more than 10 participants, such as the full 11-a-side game of football.

However, a spokesman for national agency Sport Singapore said that 94 per cent of available slots on Saturday and Sunday for football fields under its dual-use scheme had been snapped up, indicating an appetite among Singaporeans to return to the full 22-player recreational game for the first time since the pandemic began.

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