SINGAPORE – Lucky Plaza and Peninsula Plaza shopping centres were buzzing for the first time in months on Sunday (April 11) after restrictions limiting entry to the two malls on weekends were lifted the day before.
The tills rang as workers on their day off, mainly from the Philippines and Myanmar, flocked to their popular hangout spots to shop, eat and get their hair done.
“I’m tired but happy,” said Ms Sanda Kyaw Naint, owner of Ye Yint Cafe in Peninsula Plaza. The 51-year-old could hardly catch a break on Sunday as she served, during breakfast and lunch hours, almost twice as many customers as she had the previous weekend.
Mr Bob Kok, 60, who owns a grocery store in Lucky Plaza, told The Straits Times that the weekend entry restrictions imposed from Aug 29 last year made business even worse for shop owners already struggling with the pandemic.
Under the restrictions, those whose identification numbers end in even digits could visit the two malls only on even dates, while those whose numbers end in odd digits could visit only on odd dates.
Mr Kok, who has been struggling to pay his rent, said: “It was a ghost town even on Saturdays and Sundays. Today is very different. You can see many more people around.”
But a surge of visitors to the two malls on Sunday has also reignited fears of the coronavirus among some shoppers, who raised concerns about the large crowds.
There were so many visitors to Lucky Plaza on Sunday morning that the mall, which has a maximum occupancy of 6,445, had to close briefly.
Shouts of “Move along” and “Don’t wait here” rang out when ST visited the mall at about 11.20am, as safe distancing ambassadors and safe management enforcement officers tried to disperse crowds that had formed outside.
Armed police were also present.
Inside the mall, the distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers were on patrol, frequently reminding shoppers not to gather in groups along the corridors.
Ms Carmelita Sanchez, 49, a domestic worker, was waiting outside Lucky Plaza as her friend got a haircut. She had arrived at about 9am, seen the crowd, and got scared.
She and her friend went to Ion Orchard to wait it out before returning about an hour later.
But Ms Sanchez decided not to go in. “It is better that they do the odd and even system,” she said.
“There are too many people. Just now, some were pushing each other. Better to wait here,” she added.
Sunday was the first time domestic workers Keryl Palma, 37, and Grace Dizon, 36, stepped into Lucky Plaza since the circuit breaker period, which began around this time last year.
While the pair said they missed the Filipino food there and were happy to meet friends in a familiar setting, they also preferred it if the odd-even restrictions were still in place.
“It is not good because some don’t follow safe distancing,” said Ms Dizon. “If I cannot come here, I can go somewhere else, to the park or the beach,” she added.
Ms Sanda Kyaw Naint was glad to see some of her regular customers on Sunday, but she also noted how crowded Peninsula Plaza was. “It was hard to maintain social distancing,” she said. She expects the situation to ease next week.
In a circular issued on Friday to alert tenants of the lifting of the odd-even restrictions, Lucky Plaza’s management said its officers would be inspecting every unit and reminded operators to ensure strict compliance with safe management measures on their shop premises.
It said: “Shop units found with repeated non-compliance will be (reported) to the authorities for enforcement action. This is necessary to ensure that the non-compliance of a few errant shop units does not affect the operations of the entire mall, where majority of the shop units are… compliant.”
Ms Corina Teo, who chairs Peninsula Plaza’s MCST management council, said the mall had 50 per cent more visitors as at 6pm compared with the previous Sunday.
While the mall did not reach maximum capacity, there were a few times when the entrances had to be closed to ease the crowd on the ground floor, she told ST.
The mall doubled the number of security officers on duty on Sunday and also had 12 volunteers from the Myanmar community to help usher and monitor the crowd. “Next weekend’s deployment will be no less than today’s set up and we are already planning for improvements to be in place,” she added.
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