Malls, hawker centres and offices lose buzz amid return to tighter Covid-19 rules

Office workers at Raffles Place at 8.40am, on May 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Compass One was significantly less crowded than usual on May 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: IVAN KWEE
Shoppers at Waterway Point at 1pm on May 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: IVAN KEE
Shoppers at basement level in Tampines Mall on May 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: LUQMANUL HAKIM
An empty stretch of Orchard Road as seen at 5.38pm on May 17, 2021. PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

SINGAPORE - Many office buildings and hawker centres lost their usual buzz as Singapore defaulted to working from home under tightened restrictions on Monday (May 17).

While queues of up to 15 officegoers were seen buying takeaway food at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre on Monday, another lunchtime hot spot, Lau Pa Sat in Tanjong Pagar, was almost empty.

Some like Ms Shanas Ibrahim, 32, a sales assistant who works in Tanjong Pagar, welcomes the return of work from home as the default so she can spend more time with her two-year-old.

"It is a win-win situation for me," Ms Shanas said.

She has also stopped sending her elder daughter to pre-school as a precaution.

Law firm OC Queen Street has allowed all its employees to work from home by default for over a year, and is already considering downsizing the office and keeping only meeting spaces once the lease expires next year.

"We are working towards an even better work-from-home arrangement," said Mr Koh Chia Ling, 50, the firm's managing director.

Similarly, many popular heartland malls - Nex, AMK Hub, Compass One, Waterway Point and White Sands - The Straits Times visited were significantly less crowded than usual on Monday.

The longest queues were of patrons taking away food, especially in basements of malls where most eateries are concentrated.

Compulsory TraceTogether-only SafeEntry check-ins via the mobile app or token also kicked in on Monday. Most people in the malls had no issues checking in.

Many were seen tapping their phones on the SafeEntry Gateway scanner, while others were using their TraceTogether app to scan a QR code.

A few people tried to use their identification cards, which they could no longer use for checking in. The mall staff instead directed them to download the TraceTogether app.

Following tighter restrictions that kicked in on Sunday that prohibit dining in at food and beverage outlets, tables and chairs were spotted neatly stacked at eateries.

Some eateries had already seen their takings dip by up to half on Sunday. The busiest eateries had only about 10 patrons in line during lunchtime.

"It used to be quite okay during lunch, but now that everyone is working from home, we just won't see a crowd anymore," said Ms Camille Hasagawa, 31, supervisor at AMK Hub's The Pine Garden kiosk.

Koufu at Waterway Point on May 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: IVAN KWEE

Other retail stores across all malls visited by ST barely saw any customers.

Sales assistant Lim Wei Xiang said that sales at Mobile Fashion, a mobile accessories store at Compass One in Sengkang, had fallen by about 70 per cent to 80 per cent compared with a week ago.

Mr Sim Wei Bin, sales assistant at a shop selling video games at Tampines Mall, said: "Before the measures tightened, we saw up to 20 customers in the store every hour."

But on Sunday, with the new measures, its hourly footfall halved.

But despite mandatory home-based learning (HBL) for all schools taking effect from Wednesday to May 28, there seemed no last-minute dash for supplies or assessment books at bookstore chains like Popular in malls such as Compass One, Tampines Mall and Nex.

Fewer than 10 shoppers at a time were spotted inside these outlets around lunchtime when ST visited.

Popular Bookstore at Compass One on May 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: IVAN KWEE

Housewife Intan Adzurah, who was getting lunch at Nex, said she is ready for HBL with her nine-year-old daughter Sayyidah Nafeesah.

"She's the only child, so I'm not in a hurry (to stock up)," said Ms Intan.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) started mandatory swabbing for staff and tenants of White Sands and the Giant supermarket outlet at Block 440 Pasir Ris Drive 4 as some visitors to these places had tested positive for Covid-19 over the last two weeks.

While White Sands remained open to the public, it was mostly empty.

A 61-year-old cashier at the Value Shop in White Sands, Ms Azimah Muhammad, said she went for her swab test to have peace of mind.

Ms Loo Chia Hui, 24, who works at box concept store Cube Sprout selling a range of products including electronics, said the swab test at the mall was her second one.

Replying to ST queries, the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) said the Government should extend the Job Support Scheme to retailers.

"With this more dangerous (Covid-19) variant that's going around, the work from home directive as a default and schools implementing home-based learning, there's just no more traffic," said SRA executive director Rose Tong.

"Staying open doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to make money (when) there's nobody in the malls."

Additional reporting by Jason Quah

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