Hawker centres, coffee shops welcome back diners even though only two can eat together

People dining at Tekka Market on Aug 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
People dining at 505 Jurong West Market and Food Centre on Aug 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
People dining at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market on Aug 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: OSMOND CHIA
Safe distancing ambassadors patrolling Chinatown Complex Food Centre on Aug 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - After many weeks of providing only takeaway food, hawker centres and coffee shops welcomed back diners on Tuesday (Aug 10) as couples and families with children headed out for breakfast.

At Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market, as well as 505 Jurong West Market and Food Centre, a steady stream of customers was seen at some stalls. Most of the available seats at the markets were taken even as diners stuck to groups of two.

Safe distancing ambassadors were out in full force to ensure diners check in with their TraceTogether app or token at the dedicated entry points of these hawker centres.

On Tuesday, the ban on dining in, imposed since July 22, was lifted. Groups of up to five people are allowed to dine at restaurants and eateries if all the diners are fully vaccinated. The group size at hawker centres and coffee shops is capped at two people, regardless of vaccination status.

The easing of restrictions comes as 70 per cent of Singapore's population - or more than 3.86 million - has been fully vaccinated as at Sunday.

Engineering manager Steven Lim, 50, who was sitting a table apart from his wife and two-year-old daughter at 505 Jurong West Market and Food Centre, said: "It feels good to be able to sit and have a quick meal with my family after dropping my son off at kindergarten, just like what we used to do in the past before dining in stopped."

Retiree Connie Tan was happy she could meet up with a friend for coffee at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market after her routine morning hike. "It is part of our culture as Singaporeans to come to a hawker centre so, of course, we are happy," she said, adding that she hopes the group size at hawker centres can increase soon.

The number of people dining at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market was small as tables designed to seat 10 people can take only two people at any time.

Even so, Malay food stall employee Kamsia Yasir, 57, was happy to see customers return after business fell 30 per cent when only takeaways were allowed. "I hope it'll improve the morale here, but that'll really happen only when everyone can eat here," she said.

Madam Kamsia Yasir (left), an employee of Malay food stall Old Times at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market, on Aug 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: OSMOND CHIA

At Kim San Leng Food Centre in Bukit Panjang, about 70 per cent of stalls were yet to open. Most patrons were senior citizens having their breakfast.

The foodcourts around Toa Payoh interchange saw thin crowds as only indoor seats were available with outdoor seats still cordoned off.

Housewife Tan Pey Yi, 39, said she was happy to be able to go out for meals with her family. She was dining at Gourmet Paradise at Toa Payoh HDB Hub with her two sons, aged seven and 10, after her supermarket run.

"Since dining in is only for those who are fully vaccinated, it's safer. But I still won't take my boys to cinemas and any other attractions to play it safe," she said.

People queueing to enter the foodcourt at Plaza Singapura have their vaccination status checked on Aug 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

When The Straits Times visited Jurong Lake Gardens at 10am, there were a number of families and groups of friends, although most were in pairs.

Healthcare worker Shahidah Salleh, 40, who was at the park to cycle with her husband and two children aged eight and 13, said they still prefer outdoor activities and will avoid dining out for the time being. The family of four had picked up cycling in the past year as a way to beat cabin fever and spend time outdoors.

Lakeside resident Linda Koh, 39, had opted to meet her two friends at the park instead of a cafe to celebrate her birthday as she wanted to avoid crowds.

"We have young unvaccinated kids, so we're more risk-averse, so that's why we decided to meet outdoors. Later we will take away food and go to one of our houses to spend the day," said Ms Koh, who works in a bank.

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