On the last weekend before Christmas, malls in Singapore were packed with crowds of pre-pandemic size as shoppers met friends and searched for last-minute gifts.
The government is urging caution in the lead-up to phase three of Singapore’s reopening on Dec 28, which will allow larger gatherings of up to eight and expanded capacity limits in public places, and yet the masses still came.
The Straits Times spoke to several customers jammed into shopping malls. Most of them admitted being uneasy over the lack of safe distancing in crowds larger than they had expected.
“It’s very busy in the mall, it’s like there’s no pandemic,” said Muhammad Faiz at Bugis Junction. “There are so many people around, you could end up being too close to a carrier.”
“It seems like people are behaving as if we are already in phase three,” added housewife Aisyah Daman.
The government has warned against complacency over Christmas.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said, “This is absolutely not the time to relax or imagine that the problem has disappeared.”
On Saturday afternoon, news was released that 13 people in stay-home quarantine in the Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel might have become infected while they were there.
Yet nearby malls remained packed. At Ion Orchard, queues of about 20 formed outside JD Sports and Muji.
Gwee, a healthcare professional who declined to give her first name, left Daiso after only a few minutes, saying, “It was so crowded it felt like the air-con wasn’t on.”
At 313 @ Somerset, Serene said, “There are so many reasons to be out: the sales, the festive mood, meeting friends. I’m not worried, and we’re going to phase three soon.”
Outside Toys ‘R’ Us at VivoCity, Asikin Said told ST she usually shops online but as deliveries are badly affected by the Christmas rush, she brought her three-year-old son out to brave the crowds. But she said, “It’s quite bad. We’re going home right after this.”
At VivoCity and Bugis Junction, regular announcements were played over the public address system, requesting people to keep a safe distance from each other.
The government has promised it will work with retailers and deploy more safe-distancing personnel to better manage crowds.
Jenny Khoo, Singapore head of asset operations for the Lendlease group managing malls like 313 and JEM, told ST, “Our malls will continue to carry out an enhanced cleaning regime and implement crowd management measures such as directing shoppers to manned entrances as well as deploying security staff for crowd control.”