Coronavirus: NEA begins enforcement of safe distancing at all hawker centres

NEA officers patrolling Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre on April 5, 2020, to ensure safe social distancing.
NEA officers patrolling Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre on April 5, 2020, to ensure safe social distancing.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - The National Environment Agency (NEA) began enforcement operations for safe distancing at Singapore's 114 hawker centres on Sunday (April 5) which will continue throughout the month-long ban on eating out.

Footfall was brisk at Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre during lunch hour as NEA officers made their rounds, with most customers adhering to the safe distancing regulations, while hawkers rehearsed for the new normal of more takeaways and no dine-ins that will kick in on Tuesday.

Officers also distributed advisories to members of the public on the safe distancing regulations for people to keep 1m away from each other and not sit on seats marked out against use.

Speaking to the media, Mr Tang Choon Siang, deputy director of NEA's environmental public health operations department, said that in about an hour's work, NEA officers encountered about seven or eight people who were not observing safe distancing regulations.

"But they all complied once our officers told them, so that's quite encouraging," he said.

He added that NEA officers will hand out written warnings and take down the particulars of those who continue to defy the regulations.

Stricter enforcement measures may be imposed when necessary in a process akin to those who run afoul of littering or smoking laws.

Under the Infectious Diseases Act, anyone convicted of an offence can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to six months, or both, for the first offence.

From Tuesday until May 4, stricter "circuit breaker" measures to throttle local transmission of Covid-19 in Singapore will apply, including a ban on eating out, with the food and beverage business bracing itself for a further hit to revenues.


Third-generation hawker Aslam Akbar Ali, 37, who runs Aysha Food Corner in Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre, is choosing to look on the bright side of the new measures.

"We normally get a lot of takeaways anyway, and these have increased by about 30-40 per cent in the last week or so, including orders we get from food delivery services," said Mr Aslam, who sells roti prata and mee goreng.

"Here at Marsiling Mall, we are also quite close to where a lot of residents live, and as hawkers, I don't think we have as much reason to worry as other institutions or sectors who are worse off. At least we can remain open and do business."

He added that most customers are aware of the safe distancing rules, which have led to longer waiting times for food to be ready.

"There a few, most older people, who don't want to wait and barge into the stall to ask where their food is. But I will just tell them to wait and come back later," he said.

Mr Chua Lay Sing, chairman of the group that represents the 70-odd hawker stalls at the centre, estimated that about 50 per cent of stalls now offer delivery options.


Mr Chua, 55, who sells fried dough fritters, said business has remained steady for now for most hawkers, but no one is sure of what to expect come Tuesday.

"Business will definitely be affected, especially for the drink stalls because normally most of the business comes from customers sitting down to drink their coffee," he said.

"All of us are staying open for now but we will have to see what happens on Tuesday."