Coronavirus: Return to workplace and cases update

No morning CBD rush, even with workplace rules easing

Most workers already back in office since June; food sellers say lunchtime crowds still thin

While rules have been eased to allow more people to return to workplaces, there appeared to be no rush of workers in the Central Business District on Monday morning (Sept 28)
7.54am: Despite the Monday morning rush hour, empty seats were still available on this MRT train.
12.09pm: It got more crowded close to lunchtime as office workers headed out to eat near Raffles Quay. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIO
8.22am: The area outside Raffles Place MRT station seemed empty, even as the workday was about to begin. 12.26pm:Diners at Lau Pa Sat (left) during lunchtime yesterday. 12.36pm: It was more crowded at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre (right), with
7.54am: Despite the Monday morning rush hour, empty seats were still available on this MRT train. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIO
8.22am: The area outside Raffles Place MRT station seemed empty, even as the workday was about to begin. 12.26pm:Diners at Lau Pa Sat (left) during lunchtime yesterday. 12.36pm: It was more crowded at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre (right), with
12.26pm: Diners at Lau Pa Sat (left) during lunchtime yesterday.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIO

There appeared to be no rush in the Central Business District yesterday as rules were eased to allow more people to return to the workplace.

Visits by The Straits Times to Raffles Place during the morning rush hour and at noon showed a slow but steady stream of workers, but the crowds seemed no different to those last Friday before the relaxing of workplace rules kicked in.

All 30 workers whom ST interviewed said it was not their first time returning to their workplaces since the two-month circuit breaker ended in early June.

Barista Shawn Tan, 23, who works at a Starbucks coffee outlet in Raffles Place, said there was "no significant difference" in the number of customers yesterday compared with the last few weeks.

He now sees an average of 10 to 15 customers from 7.30am to 10am, but he noticed one regular customer yesterday whom he had not seen for ages and believes she could have just recently returned to her workplace.

The easing of rules for people to return to their workplaces was announced by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a virtual press conference last Wednesday. It came as the number of Covid-19 cases in the community remained low.

Employers, though, have to ensure that safe management measures are in place, and that flexible working hours and staggered reporting times are implemented.

In addition, employees must continue to work from home for at least half of their working hours, and no more than half the number of employees who are able to work from home are to be at the workplace at any point in time.

For many people like Mr Ang Chung Yuh, 33, returning to work in the CBD yesterday morning has been the case for several weeks now.


8.22am: The area outside Raffles Place MRT station seemed empty, even as the workday was about to begin. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIO

The fixed income manager said he has been back at the office since phase two of the reopening began in June and, for now, his company was unlikely to change plans for split operations for employees.

Mr Eric Neo, chief executive of investment company RF International Holdings, has been back in the office since the circuit breaker ended.

Asked if he preferred working from home or in the office, the 46-year-old said: "I'm a parent of two young kids so it's definitely more productive working from the office."

Mr Neo also felt that the returning CBD crowd in the past few weeks has created a sense that "the market is coming alive". This was particularly apparent during lunchtime when the sight of queues at food stalls was a positive sign for investors and traders alike, he said.

This was the case at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre which was packed during the lunch hour yesterday, but stall owners interviewed by ST insisted that they had seen fewer customers and much shorter lunch hours in the past few weeks.


12.36pm: It was more crowded at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre (right), with queues at several food stalls. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIO

A stall owner who wanted to be known only as Mr Loke, 47, said: "On good days, business is back to 60 to 70 per cent of what it used to be, but the crowd mainly comes on Mondays and Tuesdays. For the rest of the week, it's been relatively quiet."

Though he saw slightly more customers than usual yesterday, he does not foresee that business will improve much in the coming weeks, saying that it would be "perhaps around 10 per cent more than the current lunch crowd".

On the shorter lunch hours, he said: "In the past, queues would start to form as early as 11am, and the crowds would disperse by around 2pm, but the lunch crowd now seems to linger only from 12pm to 1.30pm."

Other stall owners in the vicinity hope the lunch crowds will return as companies begin to implement staggered work arrangements.

Mr Gerald Gan, 49, who co-owns Taiwanese eatery Healthy Passion at The Arcade, said: "I started seeing some of my regulars over the past few weeks, but many were saying that their companies needed more time to work out the logistics of split-work operations, such as getting cleaners in and ensuring that office pantries are stocked up."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2020, with the headline 'No morning CBD rush, even with workplace rules easing'. Print Edition | Subscribe