No rush of workers in CBD on Monday morning even as Covid-19 rules ease for more people to return to workplaces

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While rules have been eased to allow more people to return to workplaces, there appeared to be no rush of workers in the Central Business District on Monday morning (Sept 28)

SINGAPORE - There appeared to be no rush in the Central Business District on Monday morning (Sept 28) even as rules were eased to allow more people to return to workplaces.

When The Straits Times visited Raffles Place during morning rush hour at around 9am, there was a slow but steady stream of people making their way from the MRT station to their workplaces.

The morning crowd was similar to that of Friday at about the same time last week, before the easing of workplace rules kicked in on Monday.

All the 30 workers interviewed by The Straits Times said they had been back to their workplaces since July after the two-month circuit breaker ended.

Barista Shawn Tan, 23, who works at a Starbucks Coffee outlet in Raffles Place, said there was "no significant difference" in the number of customers on Monday compared with the last few weeks.

He now sees an average of 10 to 15 customers from 7.30am to 10am but said he noticed one regular customer on Monday whom he had not seen for ages and believes that she could have just recently returned to her workplace.

The easing of rules for people to return to their workplaces was announced by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a virtual press conference on Sept 23. It came as the number of Covid-19 cases in the community remained low.

Employers, though, have to ensure that safe management measures are in place, and that flexible working hours and staggered reporting times are implemented.

In addition, employees must continue to work from home for at least half their working hours, and no more than half the number of employees who are able to work from home are to be at the workplace at any point in time.

Events within the workplace, such as seminars, corporate retreats and annual general meetings, are also allowed to resume, though work-related events at external venues are still prohibited for now.

For many people like Mr Ang Chung Yuh, 33, returning to work in the CBD has been the case for several weeks or months now.

The fixed income manager said he has been back at the office since phase two of the reopening began in June and, for now, his company was unlikely to change plans for split operations for employees.

Mr Eric Neo, the chief executive of investment company RF International Holdings, has been back in the office since the circuit breaker ended.

Asked if he preferred working from home or in the office, the 46-year-old said: "I'm a parent of two young kids so it's definitely more productive working from the office.

"But if I were single and living with my parents, there wouldn't be much difference, but a lot of travelling time is saved."

He said that the Government has done a good job in slowly opening up the economy and that the public has been very cognisant of safe distancing measures.

The morning crowd was similar to that from last Friday at about the same time, before the relaxing of workplace rules kicked in on Monday. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Mr Neo also felt that the returning CBD crowd in the past few weeks created a sense that "the market is coming alive".

This was particularly apparent during lunchtime when the sight of queues forming was a positive sign for investors and traders alike, he said.

This was the case at the Market Street Interim Hawker Centre, which was packed during lunch hours, but stall owners interviewed by ST insisted that they had dealt with fewer customers and much shorter lunch hours in the past few weeks.

Mr Loke, a stall owner, said: "On good days, the business is back to 60 to 70 per cent of what it used to be, but the crowd mainly comes on Mondays and Tuesdays. For the rest of the week, it has been relatively quiet."

Though the 47-year-old saw slightly more customers than usual on Monday, he does not foresee business improving much in the coming weeks, saying that it would be "perhaps around 10 per cent more than the current lunch crowd".

On shorter lunch hours, he said: "In the past, queues would start to form as early as 11am and the crowds would disperse by around 2pm, but the lunch crowd now seems to only linger from 12 to 1.30pm."

Madam Mary Lee, 55, owner of local eatery Mary Lee's Corner at The Arcade, said that her business remained at 35 per cent of what it used to be, as many of her regular customers turn up only on an ad hoc basis, such as to pick up documents.

"I thought that there may be more people coming in for lunch given that it is the first day of work, but it seems like the situation is no different compared to last week," she said in Mandarin.

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Other stall owners in the same mall shared the same sentiment, with many hoping that the lunch crowds would return as companies begin to implement staggered work arrangements.

Mr Gerald Gan, 49, who co-owns Healthy Passion, an eatery selling Taiwanese cuisine, said: "I started seeing some of my regulars over the past few weeks, but many were saying that their companies needed more time to work out the logistics of split work operations, such as getting cleaners in and ensuring that office pantries are stocked up."

Mr Gan hoped that once these staggered arrangements were normalised, business would pick up.

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