Crowds thin in some office hot spots as S'pore returns to phase 2 of Covid-19 curbs

Office workers arriving at Raffles Place MRT station on May 11, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Peak-hour road traffic was lighter, there were fewer commuters on trains, and lunchtime crowds were smaller than usual for a working day at some places on Tuesday (May 11), the second weekday after Singapore's return to phase two of its reopening.

When The Straits Times visited office hot spots in Raffles Place, Marina Bay Financial Centre and Buona Vista during the morning rush-hour period and around lunchtime, the areas were generally deserted.

Most eateries had no queue during the peak meal periods - except for Toast Box at Marina Bay Link Mall, which saw a constant stream of customers and a queue of up to 10 people at any one time.

Following a spike in local community transmissions of Covid-19, stricter measures, such as a cap of five people at social gatherings and more people required to work from home, kicked in over the weekend on May 8.

Under the new rules, no more than 50 per cent of employees who are able to work from home should be in the office at any one time, down from 75 per cent. These measures will last until May 30.

At Raffles Place and Marina Bay Link Mall, there was a steady stream of office workers exiting from the train station, but few were congregating at the open spaces outside.

Some businesses responded immediately to the tightened measures.

Operations executive Serena Lai, 44, said that her company immediately adhered to the new guidelines. She believes that the regulations are necessary to control the outbreak.

"I go in only on alternate days... but my colleagues who were going in on alternate weeks previously now all work from home," said Ms Lai, who has been on the job for only a week.

Others have been operating at under 50 per cent capacity and did not need to make further changes.

For instance, technology firm Verizon, located in Ocean Financial Centre, has since March last year shifted completely to remote work. It allows its over 250 employees to come into office only on a weekly rotational basis.

"We do also request that employees come in only if absolutely necessary," said head of human resources Betty Wagglen.

Meanwhile, some businesses found the sudden switch disruptive.

"You need to adapt to these changes without time to make plans," said 37-year-old consultant S. J. Phua, who now goes to the office four days a month, down from 10 days a month.

Some activities such as research and development are also office- or laboratory-bound.

Commuters taking the MRT train towards City Hall from Tampines at 8.12am on May 11, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Office workers walking to work at Raffles Place in the CBD area at 8.41am on May 11, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Ms Amanpreet Kaur, 34, a research associate at a biomedical research company at Biopolis, said she continues to work a five-day week as she is required to do hands-on laboratory work.

"The administrative staff can work from home but a lot of researchers need to be in their labs and offices," added Ms Kaur.

Food and beverage businesses felt the immediate impact of less footfall, with several eateries ST spoke to already facing a significant dip in customers and revenue.

At bakery and cafe chain Cedele at The Metropolis, sales have dropped by 10 to 20 per cent amid the tightened measures. The outlet has also started reducing manpower.

Cafe chain Attap House had seven outlets island wide, but had to shut down three due to the pandemic. One of the outlets still standing is at The Metropolis.

"Sales have dropped but I am not worried because the SGX and P&G offices are nearby and they are still operating at 50 per cent capacity," said Attap House's manager, Mr Gringo Manlongat.

Ms Chew Lee Ching, one of the vice-presidents at the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said that SMEs find it hard to adjust to sudden changes. But they also understand the need to do so.

"There have been a lot of stops and starts, and a lot of adjustments to be made," said Ms Chew. "The greater concern... (is) a complete lockdown."

She also hopes that it will not be too long before measures are eased.

"We have been told these measures are in place till the end of May, but we hope it will not be prolonged... this new (Covid-19) variant seems to be more infectious, and that's very worrying, so we don't want the situation to deteriorate further."

Additional reporting by Eleanor Yeo, Sherlyn Sim and Gabrielle Ng

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