Roads empty in S'pore but some still break Covid-19 safe distancing rules

Masagos calls it worrying and warns of stern action as some meet in groups in public spaces

An empty North Bridge Road yesterday as school closures kicked in and most of Singapore stayed home. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
An empty North Bridge Road yesterday as school closures kicked in and most of Singapore stayed home. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
A handwritten sign at an eatery in North Bridge Road reminds customers that they cannot dine in and can buy food only to take away. Fifteen markets, including Geylang Serai Market (above) and Tiong Bahru Market, have set up controlled entry and exit
A lone cyclist riding along Jubilee Bridge, which links the Merlion Park to the promenade in front of the Esplanade, yesterday at around 4.20pm, the second day of circuit-breaker measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Singapore. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A handwritten sign at an eatery in North Bridge Road reminds customers that they cannot dine in and can buy food only to take away. Fifteen markets, including Geylang Serai Market (above) and Tiong Bahru Market, have set up controlled entry and exit
Fifteen markets, including Geylang Serai Market (above) and Tiong Bahru Market, have set up controlled entry and exit points for crowd management, resulting in long but orderly queues. These measures will be rolled out to 25 other markets and cover about half of all markets islandwide. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A handwritten sign at an eatery in North Bridge Road reminds customers that they cannot dine in and can buy food only to take away. Fifteen markets, including Geylang Serai Market (above) and Tiong Bahru Market, have set up controlled entry and exit
People practising safe distancing as they queued to buy food at Block 448 Clementi Market and Food Centre at 7.40am yesterday. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
A handwritten sign at an eatery in North Bridge Road reminds customers that they cannot dine in and can buy food only to take away. Fifteen markets, including Geylang Serai Market (above) and Tiong Bahru Market, have set up controlled entry and exit
Textile Centre in Jalan Sultan has cordoned off its entrance as non-essential services have been suspended. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Toast Box cafe at the Esplanade has halted its operations temporarily as theatres and entertainment venues also stay shut.
Toast Box cafe at the Esplanade has halted its operations temporarily as theatres and entertainment venues also stay shut. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A handwritten sign at an eatery in North Bridge Road reminds customers that they cannot dine in and can buy food only to take away. Fifteen markets, including Geylang Serai Market (above) and Tiong Bahru Market, have set up controlled entry and exit
A handwritten sign at an eatery in North Bridge Road reminds customers that they cannot dine in and can buy food only to take away. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

As Singapore hunkered down to the second day of its circuit-breaker month, many streets and malls remained almost deserted as the majority of people stayed home.

With school closures taking effect yesterday, families had to take to new routines as both parents and children started working and studying at home together.

But people young and old continued to gather in groups yesterday, and some exercise groups met in the parks, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, whose ministry oversees the enforcement of safe distancing rules, said last night. He described this as very worrying and warned that stern action will be taken.

"A good number still do not observe safe distancing when queueing, especially in the markets. These are where clusters of infections can be born," he said in a Facebook post, as 142 new cases were reported, almost all local.

A new law rushed through Parliament on Tuesday that took effect yesterday prohibits social gatherings of any size, whether in private or public spaces. Going to hawker stalls and supermarkets to get food and necessities, as some did yesterday, is allowed.

As of 8pm yesterday, more than 3,000 written advisories had been served, compared with the 7,000 issued a day earlier. Most were given in hawker centres, markets and public spaces in HDB estates.

"The point is there are still so many gatherings in public places. This is very worrying," said Mr Masagos. He added that from today, "if enforcement officers come across persons gathered in public, they will issue them written warnings immediately, before dispersing them".

Subsequent infringements will incur a fine or prosecution in court.

Three written stern warnings were issued to members of the public who failed to comply with the elevated safe distancing measures, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said.

One of them was a man who sat on a marked seat at Block 89 Redhill Close to have his meal. When asked to leave, he moved to another table to continue eating.

Yesterday, seniors shared that boredom and loneliness were making it a struggle to stay at home.

Madam Chu Wai Ngoh, 75, used to spend one to two hours a day mingling with her peers at Tanglin Halt Food Centre after shopping at a nearby supermarket. Now, she heads straight home after her shopping, lamenting the fact that her gatherings are "no more".

MANY STILL FLOUTING CIRCUIT-BREAKER MEASURES

Our enforcement officers have been tirelessly walking the ground. They issued 3,000 advisories today... There are still so many gatherings in public places. This is very worrying...

Today, we saw a record 142 new cases. Almost all were local ones. We are already two days into the circuit breaker! If we continue like this, all our sacrifice will be in vain, and so too the $5 billion Solidarity Budget.

MR MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, in a Facebook post.

Fifteen markets, including Tiong Bahru Market and Geylang Serai Market, have set up controlled entry and exit points for crowd management, and some saw long but orderly queues. These measures will be rolled out to 25 other markets managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) or NEA-appointed operators by tomorrow. This will cover about half of all markets islandwide.

In a joint statement yesterday, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said they conducted enforcement checks on nearly 10,700 businesses across Singapore on Tuesday.

Ten businesses found to have remained open despite providing non-essential services were instructed to cease operations. They included TCM retail establishments, wellness and beauty product shops, money changers, mobile phone shops, consumer electronics retailers, kitchenware shops and stationery outlets. If these businesses continue to flout the rules, ESG and STB will impose fines and suspend their operations.

Under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, first-time offenders face a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment of up to six months, or both. Second-time offenders can be fined up to $20,000, jailed up to 12 months, or both.

The stricter safe distancing measures have also made homes a little more crowded.

Nanyang Technological University psychology student Wayne Koh, 27, said it can be distracting studying at home. He lives in an executive HDB flat with his parents, sister and brother, all of whom are working from home. "Sometimes, they will take work calls or have video-conference meetings, and it can get quite noisy. I feel I am more productive in school when distractions like Netflix and taking a nap are not so easily available," he said.

For those with younger children, dealing with home-based learning on top of work has also been challenging. Senior manager Jonathan Heng, 42, said that in addition to school assignments, his son Caleb, eight, has to complete daily online modules, while his other son Zachary, four, has two half-hour online live classes a day. "While they are online, either my wife or I have to be with them. They are constantly asking questions. Our work takes a back seat."

While the changes might take some getting used to, he remains positive. "Of course it will continue to be challenging juggling the kids and work. But these are extraordinary times, and this is the new normal now. So, we just have to take it in our stride," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2020, with the headline 'Roads empty but some still break the new rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe