Coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus: Social distancing starts - from malls to supermarkets

Guests at a wedding yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore sitting at tables that were placed at least a metre apart. A restaurant (right) implementing social distancing measures at Jurong Point, with patrons sitting at alternate tables, y
A restaurant (right) implementing social distancing measures at Jurong Point, with patrons sitting at alternate tables, yesterday. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Guests at a wedding yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore sitting at tables that were placed at least a metre apart. A restaurant (right) implementing social distancing measures at Jurong Point, with patrons sitting at alternate tables, y
Guests at a wedding yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore sitting at tables that were placed at least a metre apart. ST PHOTO: HAIRIANTO DIMAN

But not all businesses adhere to mandatory guidelines; measures worry some retailers

An appeal by the authorities for businesses to implement stricter and mandatory social distancing to contain the spread of the coronavirus gained some momentum yesterday as a number of restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, nightclubs and cinemas put in place measures to keep customers farther apart.

A Golden Village (GV) cinemas spokesman said its managers will be putting in place measures as required by the authorities.

"On top of what GV has already implemented on the compulsory seat gap, we will be blocking out more seats in all our cinema halls," he added.

Several tables at the Shake Shack hamburger joint in Neil Road were marked with a cross and left empty to seat patrons farther apart. A staff member checked the temperatures of customers before allowing them to stay in line to wait for their tables.

The hamburger joint's branch at Jewel in Changi Airport had black tape on the floor placed a metre apart so people could keep a distance while queueing.

"We should do whatever we can in making sure the epidemic curve is flattened," said university student Gayya Subra, 26, who was in the queue. She was referring to the popular theory of slowing down the infection rate so that healthcare systems will not be overwhelmed, buying time for interventions, such as a vaccine to be made.

Nightclub Zouk, which remains open, is limiting its capacity in each of its four venues to 250 people, including staff. Each room has its own stamp to ensure that guests do not move from room to room - a policy that started on Friday.

STRICTER RULES

The Government announced stricter guidelines on Friday, suspending all events and gatherings with 250 or more participants until June 30, while the suspension of all social activities for seniors by government agencies will be extended for another two weeks until April 7.

Events with fewer than 250 people and operators of venues such as restaurants and cinemas must implement measures to ensure separation of at least a metre between patrons. The measures will apply across the board for all events, including religious and private gatherings.

Retailers and food and beverage outlets will also be required to keep patrons at least a metre apart. For instance, operators are encouraged to demarcate queues to ensure patrons keep their distance while dining outlets should ensure alternate seats are marked out.

 
 

The Government said the measures were mandatory and would be enforced.

The exhortations did not go unnoticed.

At a wedding at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, newly-weds who would identify themselves only as Mr and Mrs Tan split their guests into two groups - one in the ballroom and the other in an area outside.

The tables were also placed at least a metre apart and they each had only about six guests instead of the usual 10. Guests were also served food on individual plates so there was no sharing.

"We do feel safe attending the wedding," said guest Nur'Ashikin Ahmad, a 32-year-old accountant, who turned up with her husband and two-year-old daughter.

Some restaurants even cancelled reservations to avoid overcrowding. Michelin-starred Burnt Ends rang yesterday morning to turn away at least one group of guests as it needed to keep patrons a metre apart, which meant it could not have the usual number of tables.

Customer Chelsea Lim, who had her reservation cancelled, told The Sunday Times: "It's good they do this and show everyone that it's possible for F&B businesses to do something to tackle the virus too."

Ms Lim, 29, thought the one-metre rule was a good thing and that it was better "to be safe than sorry in this climate".

RESPONSE PATCHY

However, the measures did not sit well everywhere and appeared generally patchy because people still huddled close together whether they were standing in queues or dining in restaurants.

 
 
 

Lunch tables at Jack's Place at Bras Basah Complex were all filled with no empty table in between different groups of diners.

Mr Chui Miang Chew, 66, who runs a yong tau foo stall at the People's Park Complex Food Centre, said he was afraid that some customers might be unhappy if he told them to keep the one-metre distance while queueing to buy food.

"It's hard for me to dictate how they queue," Mr Chui told The Sunday Times in Mandarin. "Some customers don't like it when the hawkers tell them what to do."

He added that during peak hours there could be 40 or 50 customers in the queue.

"Keeping one metre between the patrons is difficult. Where's the queue going to go?

"It's still possible to do it here as there is some space, but some other hawker centres are even more cramped."

Most customers at the centre seemed aware of the new safe distancing measures and opted to be seated on seats that were not marked with a cross, which placed them farther away from friends and family members.

However, such measures left some retailers worried as having more empty space meant fewer tables, chairs and ultimately customers.

 
 

"Instead of having 60 diners, I would have only 20 dining in," said Mr Alan Tan, 47, chief executive of home-grown brand HarriAnns Nonya Table, which has six outlets including those at Ocean Financial Centre, Suntec City and Bugis Junction.

"The operations of our cafe require the barista and cashier to work in close proximity. How do they stand one metre apart? Business has already dropped, then the Malaysia lockdown has affected manpower. If this goes on, many companies won't last."

• Additional reporting by Jolene Ang, John Lui, Eunice Quek, Anjali Raguraman

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline 'Social distancing stepped up from eateries to supermarkets'. Print Edition | Subscribe