Coronavirus: Singaporeans out in force over the weekend despite social distancing measures

Social distancing during a movie screening at Our Tampines Hub on March 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A call by the Government to observe social distancing to keep the coronavirus at bay drew mixed reactions on Saturday as many Singaporeans tried to live life as normally as they could.

Shaking off cabin fever, many emerged from their homes to do grocery shopping and eat out at shopping malls and open-air public places like hawker centres, although they were still cautious about the threat of the coronavirus and mindful that they needed to steer clear of very crowded areas.

A 40-year-old housewife who wanted to be known only as Melissa was doing some shopping for her family at Junction 8: "I avoid touristy spots and airports.

"I can't avoid going to certain places like malls, I need to do grocery shopping... It comes to a point where you can't stay at home. Kids get cabin fever."

Quality control officer Ahmad Tirmuzi Bin Mazlan, 27, who was also at Junction 8 said: "I still meet my friends once or twice a week, although I am increasingly cautious about the numbers. I come home straight away after work, but I still go shopping sometimes."

Then there were others who were unfazed.

"There are no changes to our schedule," said assistant manager Adrem Tan, 31, who was at children's toys and clothes shop Kiddy Palace with his wife and three young children. "We don't avoid going to any place. We also don't buy masks or take any precautions."

The comments follow stronger steps taken by the government on Friday to implement social distancing as a major line of defence.

This involves deferring or cancelling all ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events with 250 participants or more. Large private functions and religious services should not have more than 250 attendees.

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Owners and tenants of venues that are publicly accessible were also advised to take precautions where possible. These include keeping seats at least one metre apart at dining outlets, limiting the number of visitors at any one time at entertainment venues and tourist attractions such as casinos, cinemas and theme parks.

But these suggestions did not seem to be taken too seriously by residents in public spaces and malls on Saturday.

It was business as usual at lunchtime at Ikea Tampines, with patrons crowding the cafeteria without any distancing between them.

It was business as usual at lunchtime at Ikea Tampines, with patrons crowding the cafeteria without any distancing between them. ST PHOTO: GILBERT WONG

Copywriter Gilbert Wong, 30, told The Sunday Times: "There really doesn't appear to be a concerted attempt to maintain any form of social distancing."

Meanwhile, the East Coast Lagoon food village was packed as customers sought outdoor dining options. Hawkers said they were not aware of the government's call for social distancing and felt it would be hard to implement such measures anyway.

"On weekends, you will see many people waiting for tables. I don't think anyone will leave any table empty here," said hawker Huang Mei Xiu, 46.

Another hawker who wanted to be identified only as Madam Chu said: "I don't feel that it will reduce the risk of infection by occupying alternate tables here."

About 10 people were queuing at the popular Cheok Kee duck rice stall on Saturday afternoon.

Sales executive Cheryl Sie, 45, was in the queue but said she was not aware of the social distancing measures.

"I don't see people keeping a distance in the queue. If people do that I will follow suit. Although I don't think it will have much effect. I think it's more important to practice personal hygiene," said Ms Sie.

Passengers on the free shuttle buses to Sembawang Shopping Centre were seated with no appreciable distance between them.

Popular outlets like Chic-a-boo and Burger King also did not appear to be prescribing where people should be seated, though workers were seen to be cleaning tables after every customer.

There were some people who dutifully kept a distance from other diners at Sembawang Food Centre, where operators marked out alternate seats with bright red tape - which meant that these should not be used.

Seats marked with red tape as part of social distancing measures at the Sembawang Hills Food Centre on March 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

"We thought to do it as a sort of social responsibility. Since the guidelines have been issued, why not follow them," said semi-retired teacher Mrs Aow, 65, who declined to give her full name.

She added that she did not need feel the need to wear a mask unless she was unwell.

Husband Mr Aow, who was sitting diagonally opposite her, said the distance was shorter than the prescribed one metre, and questioned whether it was effective enough.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) is developing an app to capture contact tracing details, said Mandai Park Holdings group chief executive Mike Barclay.

The zoo, among other WRS attractions, is also "looking at how to make congregation areas, restaurants, queue lines in our shows more spread out, more comfortable for our guests", he added.

Mandai Park Holdings is WRS's parent company.

"We will look at different ways to put (social distancing) measures in place," Mr Barclay said. "We will take the next week to do a bit of experimentation... I think they are sensible and something we want to comply with."

Additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei, Joyce Lim

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