Crowds return to CBD with Covid-19 measures eased, no more SafeEntry check-in queues at malls

The lunchtime crowd at Market Street Hawker Centre on April 26, 022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
WeWork clients at the co-working office at WeWork@Beach Centre on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Office workers at Raffles Place on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
Traffic as seen along Shenton Way at 11am on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A crowd at Bishan MRT Station during the evening peak hour on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG
A cleaner removing the remains of safe management sticker on the glass entrance at Tampines Mall on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Central Business District (CBD) regained a semblance of normalcy on Tuesday morning (April 26), with the cap on workers allowed to return to the workplace now lifted following a major relaxation of Covid-19 rules.

While it was not quite business as usual, commuters and office workers told The Straits Times it feels like things are getting back to how they were two years ago.

Gone are the lines of people waiting outside office buildings and malls to do SafeEntry check-ins. Instead, there were the familiar long queues at coffee shops where workers waited to get their morning brews.

Trains on the North-South and Downtown lines, which ran at two-minute intervals during the morning peak, were crowded. But commuters were not packed shoulder to shoulder like they were before the pandemic.

On the feeder bus service that The Straits Times took to the MRT station, the bus driver had to tell passengers to move to the back of the vehicle to allow more people to board.

There was also the usual tailback in Bishan Road, but traffic appeared to be relatively smooth otherwise.

The cap on the number of workers allowed to return to the workplace at the same time was lifted after Singapore moved its disease outbreak response one level from orange to yellow. It was previously set at 75 per cent.

Administrative worker Irene Lim, 58, said she thought it was great that more people were back in the office. 

She goes in to her workplace about thrice a week. “We’ve been working from home for a while so it is nice to go in and meet my colleagues,” she said.

Ms Lim, who took the MRT at about 8am from her home in Tampines to Raffles Place, where she works, said the train was packed. 

She added that passenger volumes were about 70 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.

Mr Benjamin Low, 42, who runs his own marketing solutions company and commutes by MRT, said the train was more crowded than usual. 

But he was glad to have his employees back at the workplace.

“It’s important for me business-wise because my people are more focused in the office than at home,” he said, adding that he was also less productive working from home.

But Mr Wang Xin Hou, 40, who designs information technology solutions as an IT architect, said: “There is no big difference between going to office and working from home, but if I had to choose, I would prefer working from home because I can save on travel time.”

Commuters inside Tampines MRT station at 8.38am on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In 2019, public transport ridership hit at an all-time high of 7.69 million trips a day.

It fell significantly in 2020 amid the circuit breaker and various Covid-19 restrictions. Although bus and train ridership recovered in 2021 as restrictions were eased to average 5.26 million a day, it was still the second lowest since 2010.

As part of the major relaxation of Covid-19 rules, group size limits and safe distancing requirements have also been removed from Tuesday.

This comes as daily Covid-19 infection numbers continue to fall and have stabilised.

From Tuesday, most venues no longer require the public to check in using the TraceTogether app or token as part of vaccination-differentiated safe management measures as well.

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Mr Adrian Chua, 64, and his group of six friends went to an eatery for coffee and a meal after cycling to Raffles Place from East Coast Park.

But with the throngs of office workers now returning, the retiree said he and his friends may avoid the CBD in future even though it has been a regular haunt.

"Now it is easier for us to get together, but it is also a problem because it is so crowded," he added.

At lunch time, eateries at One Raffles Place were packed to the gills, with restaurants at the upper floors close to full capacity.

For Presto Drycleaners at Republic Plaza, business was brisk with more workers back at the office. Those working in the area make up half of its clientele.

It was more of a mixed picture at Northpoint City in Yishun, as some eateries were deserted even during lunch hour. 

People having lunch at Kopitiam at Northpoint City on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The Starbucks outlet there, which has a one-hour time limit for dining in, was almost full, but outlets of other popular chains, like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, were only about half full.

With the lifting of restrictions, patrons could stroll in freely to malls and were no longer encumbered by rope barriers or SafeEntry counters. 

At Canberra Plaza, all traces of SafeEntry posters and cordons at the entrances were absent for the first time since the mall’s opening in December 2020. 

Homemaker Hui Ting, 38, who often visits the mall with her one-year-old son, said the trips will be more convenient now that she no longer has to struggle with a stroller and her phone while checking in at the mall. 

The McDonald’s outlet at the mall had removed safe distancing stickers from its tables and reopened its indoor playground.

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With the major relaxation of Covid-19 safety measures across Singapore, ST asks people at Canberra Plaza how they feel about the first day in two years without safe distancing or SafeEntry check-ins.

Mr Rejit Gopi, 58, the outlet’s business manager of operations, said: “The playground and area for birthday parties were closed for the last two years because of the pandemic. 

“Now that we can finally open them up, it is exciting and we hope more customers will turn up.” 

Over at Tampines Mall, the electronic gantries were powered down and programmed to stay open. 

Tampines Mall's electronic gantries were powered down and remained open on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI

But some shoppers remained cautious. 

Retired cleaner Lye Gek Hang, 62, said she is happy that she can now dine with more family members and arrange for larger gatherings to celebrate events like birthdays. 

But she added: “There are pros and cons to having relaxed measures. It’s more convenient but there are also safety concerns. “I still choose to wear a mask even outdoors in order to protect myself and my family.”

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said the relaxation of restrictions on Tuesday is a small step in the right direction for the economy.

It should help sectors that benefit most from in-person activities, such as food and beverage, and meetings, incentive travel, conferences and exhibitions, he added.

But how sustainable it is remains to be seen, said Mr Song.

“It is still going to be challenging. While we cheer the reopening, we are also mindful that the cost of running a business, whether it is for manpower or for goods, has gone up substantially,” he added.

  • Additional reporting by Jessie Lim, Ning Chionh, Jocelyn Teo, Faith Pang
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