Coronavirus: New restrictions for wet markets kick in but no shoppers turned away

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Shoppers in Geylang Serai market ahead of Ramadan on April 22, 2020.
Crowd control measures at Chong Pang Market on April 22, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - A new move to restrict entry to popular wet markets based on the last digit of shoppers' NRIC numbers has resulted in thinner crowds in at least two of the four venues.

This was the case at Chong Pang Market in Yishun Ring Road and the market at Block 505 Jurong West Street 52 on Wednesday morning (April 22).

The National Environment Agency on Tuesday had announced that entry into four popular wet markets will be based on the last digit of a shopper's NRIC number or Foreign Identification Number.

These wet markets are: Geylang Serai Market; Chong Pang Market at Block 104/105 Yishun Ring Road; Block 20/21 Marsiling Lane; and Block 505 Jurong West Street 52.

Shoppers whose NRIC last digit is an even number (0, 2, 4, 6 and 8) will be allowed entry only on even-numbered dates of the month. Those with an odd number last digit (1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) can shop on odd-numbered dates.

At the two markets that The Straits Times visited, designated entry and exit points were open from as early as 6am. The market in Jurong West also had a temperature-screening point near the entrance, staff providing hand sanitisers, and signs informing shoppers that they will be denied entry if they were not wearing masks.

At least 10 to 20 employees, including Certis officers and town council staff, were on site at each wet market to inform shoppers of the new rules, as well as to manage the number of shoppers inside the markets.

Safe distancing enforcement officers and SG Clean ambassadors were also present around the area, reminding shoppers to stand 1m apart while queueing to enter the market.

Apart from NRICs, shoppers were also allowed to present their TransitLink concession cards, work permits, PAssion cards with NRIC numbers or driver's licences.

However, ST understands that no one was turned away at the markets on Wednesday, as shoppers who have odd numbers as the last digit of their NRIC numbers were still allowed entry.

This was the case for a 64-year-old retiree, who wanted be known only as Madam Poh. She had arrived at the Jurong West market at around 8am, and was told by staff that the rules would be strictly enforced from Thursday.

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"The new measures are necessary. If not, it will be very crowded. Usually, I can't even walk through the market without bumping into others," she said.

However, a few shoppers were either unaware or confused about the new measures. Mr Chan Heng Luan, 70, a retiree who used to work in an electronics factory, had turned up at the Chong Pang market even though the last digit of his NRIC is an odd number.

"I thought that since it was a Wednesday, an odd day of the week, I would be allowed in. But the staff at the market told me they go by the date, not the day," he said.

Madam Saadiah Maltawi, 57, who works in hospitality and whose NRIC ends with an odd number, found out about the new measures only from SG Clean ambassadors present at Chong Pang Market.

Madam Ng Siew Hoon, 44, said she knew that there would be new measures to restrict entry into the Jurong West market using NRICs but she was not aware that it would be decided by the last digit being odd or even.

"Some elderly (folk) came down and did not know about this but luckily, they let everyone go into the market just for today," said Madam Ng, who is unemployed.

Patrons at Chong Pang Market on April 22, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Fishmonger Ang Lai Kiap, 55, said that footfall in the Chong Pang market had dropped by at least 40 per cent to 50 per cent compared with Tuesday, before the new restrictions kicked in.

He said the new rules "don't make sense".

"It's way more crowded in the supermarkets compared with the wet markets, and they are more dangerous because they are air-conditioned, while it is open-air here.

"Why is it just these four markets in Singapore that have to comply with the new rules?"

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The four markets are popular with shoppers and on Tuesday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the expanded measures will start with these wet markets and may include other popular areas like supermarkets, "in order to thin out the crowds and reduce transmission risk in these areas".

Mr Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said the measures could be expanded even further and include even more markets. This is to safeguard public health and stem the spread of the coronavirus in the community.

Most shoppers that ST spoke to said they did not mind the new measures.

Mr Thong Yuen Tat, 60, who was at Chong Pang Market, said that while the new measures made it more troublesome for him to go to the market, he understood the rationale.

"My NRIC ends with an even number, while my wife's ends with an odd number, so we can take turns to come here if we need to," said the driver.

Mr Muhammad Hassan, 55, a technical support officer, said that he will also cut down on the frequency of his trips to Chong Pang Market in the weeks ahead.

"I usually come here once every two days, but with Ramadan coming up and the new rule in place, I will probably come here less."

He said that the queue for entry to the market was shorter on Wednesday.

"It took just about 10 minutes, and it was a smooth process."

Ms Wendy Loh, 48, a fruit stall owner at the Jurong West market, said: "We don't have a choice. Everyone needs to help out by obeying the rules if we want this virus to stop spreading."

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