SINGAPORE - Lucky Plaza has been the go-to spot for Filipina domestic worker Ludivina Ellorengco and her pals on days off but new entry restrictions that kicked in this weekend have taken much of the buzz away.
New rules to reduce overcrowding on weekends meant the usually thriving Orchard Road mall was much quieter when she dropped in on Saturday (Aug 29).
The restrictions - they also apply at Peninsula Plaza in North Bridge Road - allow people with ID cards ending in an odd number to enter odd dates, and those with ID cards ending with even numbers to enter only on even dates.
"All my friends' (identification cards end in) even numbers, so I can't meet them here," said Ms Ellorengco, who has been working here for five years.
Ms Glyda Lopez, 34, is another fan of Lucky Plaza. She usually spends her regular Saturday days off there meeting friends and buying clothes and food.
Popular Philippine fast food chain Jollibee at the mall's basement and sixth floor is another draw for her.
Her employer designated Saturday as her day off, as malls like Lucky Plaza are busier on Sundays, she said.
"Some of my friends don't come (to Lucky Plaza) when they're off; they go to parks and open areas like Botanic Gardens and East Coast Park," Ms Lopez said.
Ms Aye Aye Than, 35, used to meet friends at Peninsula Plaza on alternate Sundays but that changed with the pandemic.
Her employer has told her to avoid crowded places when she goes out, although they have come to a compromise by shifting her day off to Saturday, when Peninsula Plaza is less busy.
"It's nice to be able to come here and shop on weekends, but it's hard to meet friends because most of them are only off on Sunday," said Ms Than.
Her employer, logistics executive Kelvin Yeow, said: "It's a good thing her card number ends with an odd number, so we can still arrange for her to have her day off on Saturday (this week). Of course, we'd prefer if she avoids crowded places if possible, and hopefully the staggered entry days will mean smaller crowds."
Other visitors The Straits Times spoke to on Saturday were not regular patrons of either shopping centre but were there to run essential errands.
A 44-year-old Filipina domestic worker who wanted to be known only as Susie was sending a package, which included a laptop, back to her family in the Philippines.
"Every year I go back home in July, but because of this pandemic I'm not able to return home, so I decided to send a parcel to my family," she said.
Housewife Cheryl Li, 57, told ST at one of Lucky Plaza's remittance shops: "I'm helping my parents' helper send money back home.
"Her (identification card) ends in an odd number, but because they (my parents) are old and not in the best of health, we feel it's safer if their helper avoids going to crowded places for now in case she gets infected."
Shop owners at Lucky Plaza and Peninsula Plaza said crowds were significantly down on Saturday compared with previous weekends.
Hair salon owner Jackie Yang said it was even quieter on Saturday than Friday: "A few of my customers came yesterday because they're not able to come today, and Sunday would be quite crowded."
Mrs Yang, who has been operating her salon in Lucky Plaza for about a decade, was concerned about the slow foot traffic, especially as rents remain unchanged.
Ms Iris Htet Engine Thant, 21, whose mother owns grocery shop Ngwe Thaw Dar at Peninsula Plaza, said that while the mall was quieter than usual on Saturday, it tends to be busier for them on Sundays, when more Myanmar nationals drop by.
But the shop is finding new ways of making sure that sales are not affected, she said.
"We do provide home delivery and have started selling on online platforms like Shopee. Customers can also arrange to pick up their items from outside the shopping centre if they are not the right number for that day," Ms Iris added.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) said Lucky Plaza and Peninsula Plaza were taking a "more advisory approach" this weekend, given its the first days of the new rules.
A visitor to Lucky Plaza, who wanted to be known only as Mr Cheong, told ST that he was allowed to park and enter the mall even though his ID card ends with an even number.
The STB, ESG and organisations such as the Centre for Domestic Employees have put reminders of the new entry restrictions on social media platforms.
Safe-distancing ambassadors were seen at both malls on Saturday, speaking to shop owners and visitors queueing up to get in. Others were deployed at the two centres last weekend to tell visitors about the upcoming entry restrictions.
"The deployment of safe-distancing ambassadors has been ramped up at both malls to manage crowds and ensure proper implementation of the entry restrictions," said the STB and ESG.
"We will also continue to engage neighbouring malls to help disperse crowds that congregate around their malls and manage any potential spillover to the main thoroughfare."