Disinfection under way at Jem, Westgate on first day of two-week closure

Jem and Westgate are located next to each other and connected by a link bridge. PHOTOS: LIANHE WANBAO, MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Workers were busy disinfecting and cleaning Jem and Westgate on Sunday (May 23), a day after it was announced that both shopping malls in Jurong East will be closed for two weeks.

Shoppers were turned away but tenants were allowed into the malls - some were seen moving their goods out of their stores to be sent to other retail outlets.

This is the first time that such multi-tenant malls have been ordered to close since Singapore started tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in January last year.

Mustafa Centre closed on April 2 last year for about a month, after it was believed to have been a starting point for thousands of coronavirus infections in foreign worker dormitories.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Health said it had instructed the malls to close for deep cleaning to curb the spread of Covid-19 after 10 shoppers there tested positive for the virus.

In response to media queries, a spokesman for Westgate said it would extend "relevant support" to its tenants, including rental waivers from CapitaLand, which owns the mall, to help them through the period of closure.

Tenants will also receive operational support to conduct online sales through CapitaLand's digital platforms eCapitaMall and Capita3Eats. Platform fees and commission fees will be waived for tenants during this period, said the spokesman.

Lendlease, which manages Jem, said the safety of its tenants and shoppers was its priority. Its spokesman did not say whether it would extend similar assistance to its tenants.

"We are working closely with the authorities to safeguard our community's safety," said the Lendlease spokesman.

Both shopping malls have about 250 retailers each. The malls are located next to each other and connected by a link bridge.

The retailers affected include furniture chain Ikea, which has about 250 staff at Jem. Its outlet there opened just last month. The staff include contracted cleaners, security officers and safe distancing ambassadors, said an Ikea spokesman.

About 99 per cent of staff at the outlet have tested negative for Covid-19, while the rest are awaiting their test appointment date or results, he added.

"So far, no one has tested positive," said the spokesman.

A spokesman for StarHub, which has a store in Westgate managed by a third-party partner, said it is providing the "best possible support" to the partner.

He also strongly encouraged customers to shop online, instead of visiting StarHub stores.

A man packing condiments at BreadTalk Cafe at Westgate on May 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

On Sunday afternoon, the malls which used to be bustling with shoppers were empty and quiet except for tenants cleaning their stores and workers disinfecting common touchpoints such as directory panels.

Signs were pasted across main entrances to inform shoppers of the temporary closure, with Westgate's sign noting that the closure "stems from an abundance of caution".

Ms Amelia Koh, 29, visited Westgate last Sunday for about three hours to attend a cooking class and buy food. The next day, she felt unwell and was swabbed for Covid-19. Her test results came back negative.

"I saw the news after I took the test so I definitely felt relieved, even though I'm already fully vaccinated," said the engineer who lives in Bukit Batok.

An employee of a restaurant in Westgate cleaning up the store in preparation for the two-week closure, on May 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Another Bukit Batok resident, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Tan, said she visited Jem more than a week ago and was worried about getting Covid-19.

"I actually booked an appointment for a swab test but the queues to do the test were a concern for me. In the end, I've decided to self-monitor for the next two weeks," said the 30-year-old who works in banking.

A GrabFood delivery driver, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tay, said he received a notification on his TraceTogether app on possible exposure to a Covid-19 case who had also visited Jem when he was picking up food for a customer.

"But I didn't go for testing because I usually spend only about 10 minutes inside the mall," said the 62-year-old, who is also fully vaccinated.

Despite the closure, the link bridges connecting Jurong East MRT station, Westgate and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital remained open.

Some used the link bridges to visit IMM mall, and those interviewed said they were not concerned about catching the virus.

An Ang Mo Kio resident, 56, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ong, said it was his first time at IMM. He had decided to make the trip because of a sale at the Nike outlet store there.

"I'm not worried about getting Covid-19 here. Like the Hokkien say, it's heng suay (based on luck)," said the retiree.

"We just have to avoid crowded places. The crowd here is still okay."

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