SINGAPORE - Customers are flocking back to Mustafa Centre after it was allowed to reopen partially more than a month after being identified as a Covid-19 cluster.
The Little India department store's supermarket section got the green light on Wednesday morning (May 6).
Mr Shamim Ahmad, manager for building maintenance and fire safety, told The Straits Times that it will operate from 9.30am to 11.30pm daily, with plans to resume 24-hour opening next week.
The Mustafa Centre cluster has not yet been closed since it was identified on April 2 after 11 cases were linked to it. There were 124 cases linked to it as at May 3.
Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the Health Ministry's director of medical services, said on April 9 that Mustafa Centre is believed to have been the starting point for hundreds of coronavirus infections at foreign worker dormitories.
Workers were likely infected after visiting the centre, where some employees had fallen ill, and they set off a chain of infections among co-workers and dormitory mates.
Mr Shamim said extra precautions against the coronavirus have been taken. He said: "We have made the space inside the supermarket wider by shifting some shelves and removing some.
"We have also implemented safe-distancing measures, placing a lot of stickers on the ground, and also have safe-distancing wardens directing customers in the queues to keep 1m apart."
He added that there is a greater tendency for customers to get closer when they queue at the payment counters, so boxes have been marked out on the floor to show where people should stand.
When The Straits Times visited Mustafa Centre on Thursday afternoon, there was a queue of about 60 people outside waiting to go in.
There were one entry point and two exits for the entire centre. Shoppers had to submit personal details by scanning a QR code via the digital check-in system SafeEntry and be subjected to a thermal scan before they could enter.
The out-of-bounds sections inside were sealed off with huge plastic sheets and unused escalators were blocked with a red cordon tape.
All employees were wearing face masks, with some also using face shields.
Only the supermarket section is open with just essential items on sale, said Mr Shamim. "Some of our popular products, such as in the cosmetics and perfume section and the pharmacy section, remain closed."
Only 325 shoppers are allowed inside at any time, well under the normal average of about 500. At full capacity, the mall can have about 2,000 customers.
There are only 60 workers on duty, down from the typical 130.
Mr Shamim said when Mustafa Centre was declared a cluster and had to close abruptly, a lot of items, including fresh milk and juice, eggs, fruits and vegetables, had to be thrown out.
"It was a Thursday, and the weekend is when we have our most sales, so we had prepared most of our stocks. But suddenly we had to close, so a lot of stock had to be thrown away."
Mr Gourav Modi, 28, who works in a semiconductor company, was at Mustafa Centre with his wife on Thursday. He said: "We came here because there are some things we can't find in the local shops, such as particular types of bread and snacks."
He said he was not worried about the coronavirus situation in Mustafa Centre as there were strict measures in place, with the staff spending "considerable" effort to check everyone before letting them in.
Police officer Shafiq Khan, 36, said he travels from his home in Pasir Ris to Mustafa Centre once a month to buy groceries.
"There are stocks of things we want that we can find here (Mustafa Centre) but not elsewhere. For example, for basmati rice, there is more variety here and it's cheaper than in other places," said Mr Shafiq, who was with his wife.
Other shops nearby are hoping that the reopening of Mustafa will bring crowds back to the area and divert some business their way.
Mr Maanish Garg, 49, director of Ballaji Bhaawan vegetarian eatery opposite the mall, said: "Mustafa's opening will definitely help all businesses here. For example, before today there was only one or two cars parked in the lane outside. But today it's full."
He said that his business has fallen by 95 per cent since mid-March and he hopes the surge of locals who visit Mustafa Centre for groceries on weekends will patronise him too.