SINGAPORE - The 115 Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre - which is at the centre of Singapore's largest open Covid-19 cluster - reopened on Sunday (June 27) after a two-week closure.
However, fewer than 10 stalls out of the 182 there were open for business when The Straits Times visited at 8.30am. Some stallholders returned to clean their stalls and clear existing stocks, after ending their quarantine on Saturday.
Human traffic was also visibly thin, as some residents were told by hawkers that they were not operating yet.
One of those stallholders who returned to work on Sunday was Ms Lindawati Tjong, 47, who has for nine years run a stall selling raw chicken with her husband.
She said she was not too worried about the virus as her family members have mostly been vaccinated or are going to get the jab.
Her family of five - including three children aged 11, 17 and 19 - were quarantined at home for the past two weeks. Their quarantine ended on Saturday.
Asked why she reopened so soon, she told reporters: "We have no choice - we have a family to feed and no income for the past two weeks." But she is more optimistic now that business can resume.
Lawyer Ho Woon Chan, 51, who has been buying chicken from Ms Tjong every week for years, said he had observed behaviour that could pose risks of Covid-19 transmission at the market.
He said he had seen residents around the area spending hours smoking and drinking. Some did not wear their masks properly, such as wearing them at the chin, he added.
He takes measures to protect himself, such as not loitering after his shopping is done. "I've started wearing masks since Chinese New Year last year," he added.
As at Saturday, there were 89 cases linked to the cluster at the market and food centre.
The earliest case among the cluster, which was declared on June 13, was found to have been infected on June 9. He is a Singaporean man, 74, who worked at a sundry store there.
The market was initially closed from June 13 to 15 for deep cleaning. The closure was later extended to June 26, after nine more cases were linked to the cluster on June 15.
Newspaper vendor Oh Seng Hock, 70, who has sold newspapers for close to 50 years next to the market, said that human traffic has dropped drastically in the past two weeks.
"There are flies around but not people," he told ST. "There are more workers and reporters than customers."
Madam Aw Yeow, 64, who runs a stall selling vegetables, was cleaning up her stall and clearing her old stock on Sunday. Her family was asked to quarantine for two weeks on June 12. She plans to resume business on Tuesday, when new stock arrives.
Other than the market, Covid-19 clusters in the vicinity include one at 119 Bukit Merah View (eight cases); one at 121 Bukit Merah View (five cases); and another at 90 Redhill Close (four cases).
Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira, who was at the market speaking with residents and stallholders, said that there has been an "outpouring of love, care and support" for the hawkers and stallholders over the past two weeks.
"They've also shared with me that they are assured that we will be helping them to apply for the grant they are eligible for, because that would really help them financially."
She said the town council will continue to deep clean and disinfect common spaces and high-touch surfaces like lift buttons and railings. "NEA also shared with me that they will facilitate the routine testing of our hawkers every 14 days," she told reporters, referring to the National Environment Agency.
"Our hawkers do expect that people will be more cautious about coming back to dine in, and people might prefer to do takeaway or online delivery," she said, adding that an online delivery platform has agreed to offer free delivery for those that order food from the hawker centre.
Preparations made for the reopening at 115 Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre include pasting additional queue markings on the floor in front of stalls to encourage safe distancing.
An NEA spokesman told ST on Saturday that the agency has worked with Tanjong Pagar Town Council to mark seats and tables at the dining areas of the hawker centre in line with prevailing regulations.
This was meant to facilitate dine-in by no more than two people in a group and with at least 1m between groups.
"Enforcement will be stepped up against patrons who do not comply with safe management measures, safe distancing and wearing of masks," said the spokesman.
The spokesman also said that patrons should scan the TraceTogether-only SafeEntry QR code at all shopfronts before making any purchases.
"Safe distancing personnel will proactively check that patrons have performed check-ins. Stallholders and stall assistants will be reminded to check in and out via the... QR code at their stalls," added the spokesman.
Professor Paul Tambyah, professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, told ST last week that the main concern about the Bukit Merah clusters was the large number of unvaccinated individuals who are still susceptible to the virus.
"Hopefully, that number will go down and we will not have any more clusters like these.
"While waiting for the vaccinations to be rolled out, the concern is that we still do not know the mode of transmission so are not able to take specific targeted preventative action," he said.