Coronavirus: Some observe social distancing, others carry on as normal

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking yesterday at a dialogue with grassroots leaders, also attended by several Cabinet ministers, where chairs were placed at least 1m apart to practise social distancing.
People at a movie screening at Our Tampines Hub yesterday. Owners and tenants of venues that are publicly accessible have been advised to take precautions where possible, including keeping seats at least 1m apart, to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
At Sembawang Hills Food Centre yesterday, alternate seats were marked with red tape to indicate that these should not be used. People at a movie screening at Our Tampines Hub yesterday. Owners and tenants of venues that are publicly accessible have b
At Sembawang Hills Food Centre yesterday, alternate seats were marked with red tape to indicate that these should not be used. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
At Sembawang Hills Food Centre yesterday, alternate seats were marked with red tape to indicate that these should not be used. People at a movie screening at Our Tampines Hub yesterday. Owners and tenants of venues that are publicly accessible have b
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking yesterday at a dialogue with grassroots leaders, also attended by several Cabinet ministers, where chairs were placed at least 1m apart to practise social distancing. PHOTO: LEE HSIEN LOONG/FACEBOOK

A call by the Government to observe social distancing to keep the coronavirus at bay drew mixed reactions yesterday 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 the airport.

"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 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 straightaway 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 last Friday to implement social distancing as a major line of defence.

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

Owners and tenants of venues that are publicly accessible were also advised to take precautions where possible. These include keeping seats at least 1m 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 yesterday.

 
 
 
 

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

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."

At East Coast Lagoon food village, the place 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.

"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 queueing at the popular Cheok Kee duck rice stall yesterday 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 practise personal hygiene," said Ms Sie.

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

 
 
 

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

Her husband, who was sitting diagonally opposite her, said the distance was shorter than the prescribed 1m, and questioned whether it was effective.

At Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), an app is being developed to capture details for contact tracing, 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' 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."

• With additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei and Joyce Lim

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 15, 2020, with the headline 'Some observe social distancing, others carry on as normal'. Subscribe