Coronavirus: Crowds thin at Orchard Road as safe distancing measures take effect

Social distancing in action at Ion Orchard on March 28, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Safe distancing measures in action at Ngee Ann City on March 28, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
A relatively empty pedestrian path in front of Wisma Atria on March 26, 2020. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Crowds along Orchard Road were visibly thinner on the first Saturday (March 28) after stricter safe distancing measures were put in place and the Government reminded the public to stay home and visit malls only for essential needs.

When The Straits Times visited popular malls along the country's main shopping stretch on Saturday afternoon, many shoppers said the crowds were less than half of what they used to be before the coronavirus outbreak.

Many malls have also implemented crowd control measures, restricting entry to certain entrances and limiting the number of customers at any one time.

Stores at Ion Orchard were relatively empty, with employees tending to just one or two shoppers. The mall had also stationed staff at entrances. Using handheld counters, they kept track of how many shoppers entered the mall.

Popular stores such as sportswear brand Lululemon and Japanese retailer Muji still had queues of customers. Safe distancing measures such as keeping 1m apart were observed.

At Tangs, markings were placed on the floor at almost every juncture, including in the toilets - constant reminders for shoppers to keep a safe distance apart.

Since Friday, malls, attractions and other public venues have had to limit their capacity and disperse groups of more than 10 or face penalties if they are later found to have been a place of transmission for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Most shoppers interviewed said they were taking precautions and would limit the time they spent outside.

Marketing communications manager Zen Yip, who is in her early 40s, was out with her husband at Ion Orchard "for a breather".

Safe distancing at Wisma Atria on March 28, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

"I think it's fine to be out as long as we take every safety precaution and keep to the basic rules, like washing your hands and observing your personal hygiene," she said.

She had attended a baking class at the mall, which had also reduced the number of students.

"It's hard for all of us to be staying home all the time. Sometimes, we just need to come out for a breather, to do some exercise," said Ms Yip, who said she will take other precautions like limiting the time spent outside.

Ms Shania Loh, 22, a student at Nanyang Technological University, said she believes the malls and shops were all taking safe distancing very seriously.

"Some stalls allow only 10 people in or so. I queued for 45 minutes to get into one but the staff were very good - they came out to check that we maintained a safe distance even within the queue" said Ms Loh.

On Saturday morning, the WhatsApp channel sent a reminder for the public to visit malls only for essential goods such as food, to keep at least a distance of 1m from others, and buy groceries online.

Ms Loh said she had seen the advisory and will try to go out less often now.

Storekeeper Muliyadi Pagi, 50, was at Tangs with his wife and son to buy a pot.

He estimates that they spent only 20 minutes in the store, and were heading home when he spoke to ST.

When asked if he felt safe being out and about during this period, he said it was a "50-50" feeling.

Safe distancing in place at Ion Orchard on March 28, 2020. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

"Everybody must play their part. You never know; maybe you don't have it, but others might have it," he said.

A shopper who wanted to be known only as Alex said he had go to the bank to sign some documents, and had dropped by Bugis Junction to buy some necessities.

The 38-year-old civil servant said: "It's hard to stay away because some of these errands can't be done online."

Mall operators said they had taken strong measures to implement safe distancing, including limiting carpark spaces, deploying staff to track the number of visitors and keeping to the guideline of no more than one person per 16 sq m of usable space.

There were also fewer people heading to the heartland malls. Shoppers at malls such as Junction 8 and Tiong Bahru Plaza said there were noticibly less patrons on Saturday afternoon.

Yoga instructor Eliza Lek, 33, who was at Junction 8 to buy groceries said: "I wouldn't have left the house if we weren't all out of food. I have to shop for my family of five. We have designated just one person to leave the house to do grocery shopping."

Over at Tiong Bahru Plaza, shopper Abhyudit Dev, 25, has been visiting the mall only to buy goods from the supermarket.

Noting that many people visit the mall in the evenings, the marketing executive said: "While many of us are working from home, we only find time to log off from work and attend to our essential needs in the evenings. I will try to visit during lull periods instead of peak periods."

Government agencies have also stepped up efforts to help implement the new measures.

In a joint statement on Saturday, the authorities said they deployed staff on the ground to help guide and ensure that food and beverage, retail and tourism establishments comply with measures.

If establishments do not comply, "they will be guided on finding suitable solutions", said the statement, which was issued by Enterprise Singapore (ESG), the Housing Board, the National Environment Agency, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the Singapore Tourism Board, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

It added that those who still fail to comply with the safe distancing measures after follow-up checks may be prosecuted under the Infectious Diseases Act and other regulations.

Wisma Atria on March 28, 2020. Many malls have also implemented crowd control measures, restricting entry to certain entrances and limiting the number of customers at any one time. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Another joint statement from ESG and SFA, said after guidance has been given, businesses have one to two days to comply with the recommended measures, after which another check will be conducted. If the measures are still not implemented, ESG and SFA will issue an official warning letter to the business owner. Following this, a third visit will be made for further checks on compliance.

The statement said: "Businesses that are found to have violated the Infectious Diseases Act and regulations promulgated thereunder may be liable for an offence and charged."

ESG and SFA have not issued warning letters so far.

Even as the Government urged consumers to stay home and place shopping orders online, supermarkets and online grocery shopping services said they were doing their best to cope with rising demand.

A Lazada spokesman said the company's e-grocer RedMart has implemented purchase limits on specific product categories and is making changes to the online store's assortment to ensure that there are enough daily essentials for customers.

He said: "We are working hard to increase our fulfilment capacity to meet the rising demand and welcome companies who can support to partner with us."

A spokesman for Dairy Farm, which runs Cold Storage and Giant, said that with an increase in traffic both in store and online, "we would like to assure our customers that all our team members are working around the clock to ensure our customers get what they need".

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