SINGAPORE - More than 500 stall holders, stall assistants, and cleaners working at selected hawker centres and coffee shops in the Marine Parade area, along with food delivery personnel, received free Covid-19 swab tests on Saturday (Sept 19).
The National Environment Agency, the Singapore Food Agency and Enterprise Singapore said in a joint statement that by the end of this weekend's tests on Sunday, around 980 people are expected to be swabbed at two locations - the pavilion beside Block 75 Marine Drive, and at the open plaza in front of Block 50A Marine Terrace.
Marine Parade GRC MP Tan See Leng told reporters on Saturday morning at the Marine Drive site that feedback from hawker centre and coffee shop merchants regarding the testing "has been very good".
"A couple of them actually came up to me and said that (the testing) is a good exercise because what they are concerned about is really their livelihood," said Dr Tan, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Manpower and Trade and Industry.
He was referring to the impact of Covid-19 on the merchants. The outbreak has reportedly hit sales of hawkers, especially during the two-month circuit breaker that started in early April.
Dr Tan was accompanied by Temasek chief executive Ho Ching and Emeritus Senior Minister, and former prime minister and MP for Marine Parade GRC, Mr Goh Chok Tong.
The weekend tests are part of a larger initiative that the Health Ministry (MOH) had announced on Aug 29, which involves offering one-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to community groups such as taxi and private hire car drivers, food delivery personnel and key vendors servicing foreign worker dormitories.
MOH said that the community groups were identified due to their high frequency of interaction with members of the public. It added that the tests are being carried out to provide a better picture of the prevalence of the virus in the population at large.
Dr Tan said he hoped that the number of people tested positive from the weekend tests will be "very, very, very low" as that will restore "a significant amount of confidence to people visiting our hawker centres and visiting our merchants and wet markets, and also our coffee shops".
Hawkers, stallholders and food delivery riders whom ST spoke to at Marine Drive said that taking the swab tests gave them a peace of mind, and was a good safety precaution in light of the ongoing pandemic.
GrabFood delivery driver Ramadan Taslim, 26, who lives near Marine Terrace, decided to head down for a swab test as a safety precaution, given his high frequency of contact with the public.
"I typically do around 140 deliveries a week, though around 25 per cent of these are contactless ones. Nonetheless, it's a good chance to take the test since I live nearby," he said.
Mr Lim Lee Chye, 74, and his wife, Madam Yeo Swee Chin, 67, who are stall owners selling kitchen utensils at the Block 84 Marine Parade Central market, had completed their tests at around 11am on Saturday morning.
"It's a free test, so there's really no harm going, even though we feel healthy and well, it's good to get the additional reassurance," said Mr Lim in Mandarin.
Mr Lek Kim Seng, 56, who runs a stall selling bee hoon at the same hawker centre, said he and his two family members will be going to get their swabs done in the afternoon when business is slower and the lunch crowd has dissipated.
However, some stall owners said they were not aware of the ongoing tests taking place over the weekend, though ST understands that a notice informing them of the swab tests had been given out a week ago.
Mr Victor Thya, honorary secretary of the Marine Parade Merchant Association, said: "Our local merchants and hawkers' associations have been strongly urging all our hawkers and coffee shop owners to get their swabs done, and the response has been good so far, many of whom have been very receptive to this initiative."
The association has reached out to workers at seven selected coffee shops, as well as three hawker centres and markets at Block 84 Marine Parade Central, Block 50A Marine Terrace, and Dunman Food Centre.