Coronavirus: Singapore

Lax mask wearing fuelled virus spread: Fishmongers

KTV hostess who tested positive also said to have worked at Jurong Fishery Port

Links to a large cluster at KTV lounges and a lack of attention paid to mask wearing turned Singapore's main fishery port into a hotbed of Covid-19 infection, said those who work there.

It is understood that a KTV hostess who recently tested positive for the virus had worked at the port. Some workers there are also patrons of KTV lounges.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung confirmed yesterday that the KTV and Jurong Fishery Port clusters are linked, and studies are ongoing to establish their relationship.

The port, which had 179 Covid-19 cases as at yesterday, was announced as a cluster last Friday, along with Hong Lim Market and Food Centre.

Spread over 5.1ha - about the size of 12 football fields - with more than 100 merchants and 3,000 customers daily, the larger of Singapore's two fishery ports is closed for two weeks until July 31 so it can be deep cleaned, and to halt the transmission of Covid-19.

Fishmongers and workers there say lax mask-wearing habits could have contributed to the rapid spread of the virus.

A worker in his 30s, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, said it can be difficult to breathe with a mask on when carrying large barrels of fish.

"A barrel of fish weighs between 100kg and 120kg, and we hand-carry it to our stalls from the lorries. It's hard labour," he said in Mandarin.

"With sweat pouring down our faces, we sometimes take off our masks for a short period to catch our breaths. When we're not careful and talk to one another, that's how the virus spreads."

Mr Tan added that he knows five workers who tested positive for Covid-19, and he had interacted with some of them just days ago. His test results came back negative on Sunday.

While information on the vaccination rate of the port's workers was not immediately available, workers told The Straits Times that the majority of them have been vaccinated.

Fishmongers from all markets are being tested for Covid-19 at designated testing centres after the cluster emerged. They are required to self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.

Alan (not his real name), a fishmonger in his 50s who goes to the Jurong Fishery Port daily for supplies, said he often sees people taking smoke breaks without masks on and chatting in groups of two or three.

"We are often at the port for hours to wait for fish to arrive by boat from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. While waiting, people tend to let their guard down and socialise," he said.

Others said the sheer size of the port makes the enforcement of Covid-19 rules difficult.

Said a fishmonger in his 30s who did not want to be named: "When the enforcement agents come to check, the news spreads quickly and those at other end of the port pull up their masks. When they leave, the masks come back down."

Singapore's other fishery port, Senoko, has been activated to ramp up operations, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Sunday.

Senoko operates on a smaller scale, with just 25 merchants and 700 to 1,000 customers daily.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said on Saturday that there may be temporary disruptions to the supply of chilled seafood, but frozen seafood options remain available to mitigate the shortfall.

In response to queries, SFA said yesterday that enforcement officers at Senoko ensure foreign delivery personnel unload their goods at designated areas, with no physical interaction with port staff.

"Fishmongers, customers and suppliers who visited Jurong Fishery Port from July 3 to 16 may go to Senoko to get their seafood supply, so long as they have tested negative for Covid-19 in the past two days," it said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2021, with the headline 'Lax mask wearing fuelled virus spread: Fishmongers'. Subscribe