Crowds back at eateries, shops as more coronavirus curbs lifted

Day one of second phase of opening up sees return to business, even as some stay away

People queueing to use the SafeEntry system for contact tracing before entering Nex mall in Serangoon yesterday, when retailers across Singapore saw a steady flow of customers that lasted all day in some spots. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
People queueing to use the SafeEntry system for contact tracing before entering Nex mall in Serangoon yesterday, when retailers across Singapore saw a steady flow of customers that lasted all day in some spots. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Playgrounds long silent rang with laughter yesterday, people had coffee with old friends they had not seen in a while and queues materialised, as Singaporeans waited patiently to get into malls, shops and restaurants after more than two months of doing without.

Day one of phase two of the reopening, which saw many businesses and social activities resuming yesterday, was a stark change from earlier weeks. Many restrictions had been in place here from April 7, first during the circuit breaker and then - from June 2 - the cautious reopening of the economy that was phase one.

While some people opted to remain cautious and stay at home, others made up for lost time and went for a swim, visited a showflat or went out for a meal.

The country has been able to move into phase two because community infection rates have generally remained stable, cases in migrant worker dormitories have declined and there are no new large clusters emerging.

Yesterday, 142 new coronavirus cases were confirmed, the lowest since April 8. Only one was a community case.

Care must be taken to hopefully keep things this way.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed yesterday that precautions such as wearing of masks and safe distancing were still essential, and asked people not to go overboard celebrating.

"As Singapore cautiously re-opens, please stay vigilant and keep what we have learnt close to heart," he said in a Facebook post. "If we all do our part, and take responsibility not only for ourselves but those around us, we can all be safe."

Retailers felt the difference yesterday as people emerged eagerly from their homes, adding to a steady flow of customers that lasted all day in some spots, marking what businesses hoped would be a turnaround from the dismal takings of earlier months.

Despite snaking lines at places such as Nex mall in Serangoon and IMM in Jurong, people were good-humoured and generally happy just to be out. They wore masks and generally kept about 1m from fellow shoppers, and safe distancing ambassadors were present to make sure of it.

Others ventured out to catch up with friends at night.

 
 
 

Ms Sue Sainie, 40, who was at Robertson Quay at about 9pm, said that the reopening was timely, although she was well aware of the possibility of a second wave of infections here and would keep precautions in mind.

Said Ms Sainie, who works in sales: "Individuals should also realise they have a part to play in reducing the spread of the coronavirus."

Malls and retail outlets had in place strict measures to make sure that customers were safe. These ranged from having staff open and close doors for customers so they need not touch them, and having sanitiser at hand, to handing out disposable gloves to customers trying on shoes, and steaming clothes after they were tried on.

Said Ms Jenny Khoo, head of asset operations at Lendlease Singapore: "We are glad to see our shoppers again, and have observed the orderly movement of people at our malls.

"We will continue to work closely with our tenants to manage operations in a safe manner, with health and safety as our top priority."

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said last night that crowds had gathered in some areas, and that patrols would be stepped up at nightspots, with enforcement action taken against operators and individuals who breached safe distancing measures.

Many had probably made plans for the weekend for activities that they had not been able to enjoy in the last few months, he said on Facebook.

 
 

"However, we must remember that Covid-19 remains a threat, and act responsibly, limit our contact with others, and practise good personal hygiene."

Some people, however, opted to stay home for the time being.

Said Ms Ang Yiling, 41, a customer service professional: "I anticipated crowds at malls and outlets today as people could finally catch up with friends and dine out after two months. But I prefer to be a bit more careful as I have aged parents and decided to avoid the first day rush."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2020, with the headline 'Crowds back at eateries, shops as more virus curbs lifted'. Subscribe