Days before the last remaining controls on the movement of migrant workers living in dormitories are set to be eased, places popular with workers are bustling with activity.
In Chinatown, Geylang Serai, Jurong East and Little India, the picture was almost of a pre-pandemic normal, with sizeable numbers of migrant workers garbed in neatly pressed shirts and chatting with friends as they strolled down the busy streets.
Migrant workers have needed an exit pass to visit the community but from tomorrow, only those who want to visit Chinatown, Geylang Serai, Jurong East or Little India on a Sunday or a public holiday have to apply for a popular places pass.
For many of the 60 workers The Straits Times spoke to at these four spots on Sunday, the exit pass system was as good as lifted.
They told ST that for the past month, they have left their dormitories without an exit pass.
Migrant workers and advocacy groups said there should not be a need for the popular places pass on Sundays or public holidays in the light of Singapore's shift towards treating Covid-19 as endemic.
Mr Chinnaiyan Senthil, 36, was in Little India on Sunday to pray at a temple and meet his friends. He was among the workers who said their dormitory no longer checked if they had an exit pass to visit the community.
"When Covid-19 was spreading, the exit pass was useful. Now, it's of no use any more," he said.
Transient Workers Count Too general manager Ethan Guo said the pass system seemed to be neither "grounded on good science or justified", with the rest of Singapore returning to normality.
He added: "Singaporeans can now enter malls, shop, do their banking, socialise and dine at food establishments freely. Migrant workers want to do exactly the same thing - at the said popular locations."
Dr Leong Chan-Hoong, head of policy development, evaluation and data analytics at global policy consultancy Kantar Public, said the relaxation of restrictions for migrant workers is long overdue, with rules on the wider community relaxed since last year.
However, he said the measures were not out of the norm.
"A lot of our policies are pre-emptive measures to enforce certain social behaviours. Rules such as no-smoking areas or not making noise before and after certain times are not really enforced," he said.
While Dr Leong agreed with some non-governmental organisations' view that the measures were discriminatory, he said: "We can't just point fingers at policymakers because among Singaporeans, there is still a fair bit of reservation, and these policies reflect what the wider community wants."
Responding to queries from ST, a spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower said workers can apply for the popular places pass on the SGWorkPass mobile app. The application requires only information on the date of visit and preferred location, and approval will be almost instantaneous, it added.
The ministry earlier said the pass is required to manage potential crowding at the four locations, and that up to 80,000 such passes will be available in total each Sunday or public holiday.
Migrant workers said they are looking forward to regular visits to the community.
In Chinatown on Sunday, a construction worker who gave his name only as Mr Wu said he was glad for the greater freedom of movement in the past seven months.
"Chinatown is the only place where migrant workers like me can feel comfortable," said the 32-year-old. "The signs and language spoken here are familiar to me."
Construction worker Sehab Uddin, 48, who was in Geylang Serai, said: "It's like things are going back to normal."
Some migrant workers also said they hope that the same Covid-19 safety measures will be applied to all soon.
A 36-year-old electrical engineer from India who wanted to be known only as Mr Sami said: "We have been playing our part well for the past two years. We have been following the Government's rules and we all know how to take care of ourselves."
- Additional reporting by Varun Karthik, Bryan Cheong and Nellie Toh