Relief to be able to get groceries, exercise and even beer as SHN lapses for some foreign workers

Xavier Mathew, who works for a florist, shops for groceries at NTUC FairPrice at Kang Kar Mall after midnight on May 19, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Indian national Xavier Mathew stood by the door of his flat last night from 11.50pm and waited for the minutes to tick away until 11.59pm.

That was when his month-long stay-home notice (SHN) lapsed and he could leave his flat at Hougang Avenue 7.

He immediately made his way to a nearby 24-hour FairPrice to buy meat and vegetables.

The 45-year-old, who works for a florist, said: "I had been surviving on sambar and dhal. I needed to change the menu and buy some meat and more vegetables like potatoes, carrots and onions."

Mr Mathew, who cooks once every two days, had the foresight to buy 20kg of rice and vegetables on April 6 to last him roughly a month.

He has been working here for the past 15 years, and said that having to serve the SHN at home was not too bad as he has a compatriot living in another room in the flat.

Mr Mathew was among 85,000 foreign workers staying in flats, hotels and condominiums following measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus whose SHN lapsed last night at 11.59pm.

While food may have been on many workers' minds when their SHN ended, there was no need to rush for it, said Mr Rahman Mizanur, a construction worker staying in an Aljunied hotel with five other workers from Bangladesh.

Mr Rahman, 29, said: "We know we cannot all leave our hotel rooms together. There is no reason to do that because we choose one person to buy Bangla food on others' behalf."

All the workers The Straits Times spoke to understood that circuit breaker measures, such as wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance, continue to be enforced.

Another Bangladeshi worker who was rejoicing at his "freedom" was Mr Ahamed Mahfuz.

His flat at Woodgrove Drive overlooks a field where each evening, before the pandemic started, he would jog or play cricket with friends after work.

Mr Ahamed, a 32-year-old electrician from Choice Builder, said of the field: "It is so close, yet so far. I will have to accept that I can only jog but not play team sports. This is better than staying indoors for the last month."

To keep his sanity, Mr Ahamed, who has worked here for almost a decade, said he engaged in daily prayers, read the Quran as well as prepared meals to break fast with his compatriots. He also made video calls a few times a day to his wife and two daughters.

Last week, Mr Ahamed and his housemates realised their food was running low. They had only porridge with chicken and vegetables to be shared among three people for their break-fast meal. Luckily, the men received food handouts from a good samaritan and the Bangladesh High Commission.

Mr Xavier Mathew, 45, who works for a florist, on the way to shop for groceries after midnight, as soon as his stay-home notice ended. He is among 85,000 foreign workers staying in flats, hotels and condominiums following measures to contain the spre
Mr Mathew on the way to shop for groceries after midnight, as soon as his stay-home notice ended. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Mr Ahamed, who is from Comilla district near Dhaka, said: "Our boss helps us a lot, but he is not familiar with Bangladeshi food. Being able to leave home now means we can buy freshwater fish and spices from a Bangladeshi market in Sungei Kadut, which will go well with our local dishes."

Meanwhile, Mr Xiong Jian, a civil engineer from construction company Kori Holdings, will be only too happy to quench his thirst. As he has not had a drop of beer for almost a month, he will be buying a case of beer today. Mr Xiong, 30, who stays in a Geylang apartment, said in Mandarin: "It has been some time since I last had a drink. It is too expensive to have it delivered, and I have not asked my housemate to buy it because it is heavy to carry."

While he admitted it was a relief to shop for groceries and buy hawker food, he said his employer constantly reminds him to observe circuit breaker rules and stagger the timings with his three other housemates when leaving the apartment.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2020, with the headline Relief to be able to get groceries, exercise and even beer as SHN lapses for some foreign workers. Subscribe