Coronavirus: Over 200 fines issued for breach of rules on safe distancing

Enforcement officers had to call for police assistance in more than 10 cases yesterday

Among those fined is a woman who sat on a marked seat at a food centre in Aljunied. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES

As Singapore enters its second week of its month-long circuit breaker period, people here are still trying to come to terms with keeping to themselves - despite the price.

More than 200 composition fines of $300 each were issued to those who flouted elevated safe distancing measures yesterday, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said last night. This included a woman who sat on a marked seat at a food centre in Aljunied. As she continued eating, and refused to leave or provide her particulars to officers, the police had to be called in, said the ministry. In total, police assistance was required for more than 10 cases yesterday.

About the same number of composition fines were issued on Sunday, when the stiffer penalties for such breaches kicked in. On both days, fines were issued to people who were loitering, or using areas that had been cordoned or closed off.

"This included a group playing in the Tanjong Rhu open field, a small group playing tennis at the closed Tanglin Tennis Academy, and (a group playing) baseball in a closed private field at Tanglin Rugby Club," MEWR said.

During the circuit breaker, schools and most workplaces have been closed until May 4 to stem the spread of Covid-19 in Singapore. People have also been urged not to leave their homes other than for essential activities.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said in a Facebook post yesterday that there have been many queries on what can or cannot be done during this period. "My answer to them is that there is a law to abide by, but it is our love for our families, friends and fellow Singaporeans that should guide our actions," he said.

He added that he had called his mother to explain why he should not meet her in person. "Because of my work, I may expose her unwittingly to this deadly virus. And I will never forgive myself if I did," he said. "The remaining 21 days are a critical window that will determine if we can successfully flatten the curve, prevent large-scale community spread and save our loved ones."

While there was still a lunchtime crowd ordering takeaways from the eateries at Velocity mall in Novena, the human traffic was considerably less than usual.

At West Coast Park, individuals and small family groups were seen strolling, jogging or exercising at about 6pm. The rest areas were largely empty save for one elderly man, who was sipping a drink on a bench.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew, commissioner of parks and recreation at the National Parks Board (NParks), said most parks and gardens managed by the board saw low to moderate visitor levels. But different parts of Singapore's green spaces had to be progressively closed to allow for safe distancing and prevent groups gathering, especially during peak periods, he said.

Those visiting these areas to walk, jog and cycle by themselves or with individuals from the same household should practise safe distancing measures, and return to their homes once done, he said.

"Gathering in groups in parks for social or recreational activities such as having picnics, group exercising, kite flying, bird singing, or playing games like frisbee and football are not permitted," Dr Leong added.

Between Saturday and 1pm yesterday, more than 200 fines were issued to visitors who were gathered in groups for exercising, kite flying, frisbee playing, bird singing, entering areas that had been closed, as well as mountain biking and cycling in parks managed by NParks and town councils.

The police said yesterday that while no road blocks have been conducted specifically to enforce the elevated safe distancing measures, enforcement action may be taken against motorists and passengers seen flouting the measures at road blocks.

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said there are far fewer people on the streets and in public spaces now, which was the purpose of the circuit breaker.

He added: "With the majority of the population heeding the call to stay at home, the level of interaction between people from different household units will drop significantly, and we know this will have a clear (positive) impact on containing the outbreak in Singapore."

But he said people should not be complacent. "Singapore must continue to be vigilant against importations, and to stem out any sporadic cases or clusters before they seed further community transmissions."

Lawyer Yos Pang, 34, has been sending hawker food to her friends last week via food delivery services to support hawker businesses and to cheer friends up during the circuit breaker period.

In return, she asks them to pay it forward to make someone else's day. Ms Pang said she has also received surprises from her friends, including a honey cake and hot cross buns. "I also got a bouquet of flowers to kick-start week two of the circuit breaker, and to help combat the frustration as an extrovert who cannot socialise during this period," she said.

• Additional reporting by Clara Chong

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Over 200 fines issued for breach of rules on safe distancing. Subscribe