Supermarkets and wet markets potential Covid-19 hot spots, chains here take precautions

Shoppers at Whampoa Wet Market on May 28, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Supermarkets and wet markets have emerged as potential hot spots in the war against Covid-19 as people who had tested positive for the virus over the past week visited such spots for 30 minutes or more, according to the authorities.

The Ministry of Health named four FairPrice outlets and two wet markets this week as public places visited by Covid-19 cases.

Supermarket chains such as FairPrice and Sheng Siong said they have implemented strict safety measures for both customers and staff throughout the pandemic.

In response to questions from The Straits Times about some FairPrice outlets having been visited by Covid-19 patients earlier this week, a spokesman said: "FairPrice has put in place stringent precautionary measures to maintain a safe and clean environment for our staff and customers in accordance with the authorities' guidelines. We will continue to maintain strict cleaning regimes, especially for high-touch surfaces like railings, trolleys, baskets, checkout counters."

It also provides staff with masks and takes temperatures twice a day. Hand sanitisers are also available for staff and customers, who must also wear masks in the store.

FairPrice outlets have floor markings at checkout queues to help customers keep a safe distance and crowd control measures to limit the number of customers in each store.

Similar measures have also been implemented at Sheng Siong outlets and supermarkets under grocery retail group Dairy Farm, including Cold Storage and Giant.

Shoppers also have to scan their NRICs for entry to all supermarkets or scan a QR code via SafeEntry, the digital check-in system developed by the Government Technology Agency.

A Sheng Siong spokesman said: "There are also in-store notices and regular announcements to remind customers to keep a safe distance."

A Dairy Farm spokesman added that bi-hourly disinfecting of high touch point areas like baskets and trolleys are also conducted at their stores.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it is putting up SafeEntry QR codes across all wet markets and hawker centres, and patrons are encouraged to use them.

The agency also advised the town council and its cleaning contractor to thoroughly wash and disinfect the market and hawker centre at Block 505 Jurong West Street 52 that two active Covid-19 cases visited within the past two weeks.

Medical experts noted that any location that attracts large crowds could become potential weak links where the virus could spread.

Professor Paul Tambyah from the department of medicine at the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine said: "Supermarkets are often very crowded with narrow aisles and limited ventilation. In contrast, our wet markets tend to have better cross ventilation although many can get very crowded too."

He cited a Japanese research study that noted how enclosed environments are more likely to be sites of infection clusters compared to open-air environments.

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam suggested that supermarkets include hand sanitisers along its aisles and shelves to encourage people to clean their hands more frequently.

Shoppers the The Straits Times spoke to said going to markets was an unavoidable necessity.

Engineer June Aw, 41, who shops at the FairPrice at Hillion Mall about twice a week, said: "I think the supermarkets are taking every precaution that they can. I also do my part by visiting during non-peak periods and making sure to wash my hands when I get home."

Assistant manager Jolene Ang, 34, said she still goes to the FairPrice at Northpoint at least once a week to do her grocery shopping.

She said: "There might be risk but we have to shop for groceries. I wear a mask and use the hand sanitiser that the supermarket provides. There's also contact tracing now which makes me feel safer."

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