No rush to eat in bigger groups at malls, hawker centres on first day of Singapore's phase 3 reopening

SINGAPORE – Even though dining in groups of more than five was allowed for the first time in months, only a few did so, with patrons observing safe management measures as they did before, on the first day of Singapore’s third phase of reopening on Monday (Dec 28).

People in malls like Junction 8 in Bishan, The Star Vista in Buona Vista and those along Orchard Road were seen keeping to social distancing measures and logging their visits via Singapore’s digital check-in system SafeEntry.

At hawker centres in Ghim Moh and Toa Payoh, patrons were orderly as they stuck to small groups for their meals, despite being allowed to eat in bigger groups.

Groups of up to eight people can now gather socially, up from a limit of five, as Singapore moved into the long-awaited third phase of its reopening on Monday – more than eight months after its circuit breaker period meant to choke the spread of Covid-19.

But The Straits Times observed that while not many had gathered in groups of more than five, those in groups of six, seven or eight said that they were glad to be able to include more people in meals.

Eunoia Junior College student Joel Koh, 17, was queueing for lunch with five other friends at Japanese eatery Watami in Junction 8, and said that he was glad all of them could eat together.

“I’m quite happy because now we can include everyone. If your friend group is more than five, we had to all be split up, but now everyone can eat together,” he said.

At the Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre during lunch on Monday, queues formed in front of popular stalls but everyone was seen to keep a safe distance apart from one another.

There were very few groups of more than five people, despite the adjustment of seat markings to signal the increase in maximum dining group size to eight.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement that tables with eight seats or fewer will no longer have any seat markings, while tables with more than eight seats will have some seats marked out to ensure that dining groups remain a maximum of eight people.

“With phase three, markings on seats and tables at the dining areas of hawker centres have been revised with simplicity and flexibility in mind to accommodate the increase in dining group size from five to eight persons,” said the NEA.

The agency added that dining groups at hawker centres will still have to keep 1m from each other. Where adjacent tables are less than 1m apart, some seats may be marked out to maintain safe distancing.

Safe distancing ambassadors will continue to be deployed at hawker centres to ensure compliance with safe management measures, said the NEA.

Some like student Saiful Rahman, 22, who was buying takeaway food at Ghim Moh food centre, said that he was looking forward to having meals with bigger groups, especially to have supper.

“It used to be a case where my friends and I could all have supper late at night to hang out, but the five-person limit made it hard. My group of friends has seven people, so now all of us can meet, there’s no need to meet separately.”

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Beyond having shared meals, some like housewife Rokiah Kasim, 54, are looking to be able to visit people in larger groups too. Madam Rokiah, who has three siblings with their own families, said that she will be visiting her mother this weekend.

She said: “Not much changes for me but this New Year’s holiday more of us will be visiting my mother. I think she will enjoy having more people around. We have been going in smaller groups of five and sticking to one family per visit; eight people is better because more people can join in.”

Mr Benjamin Seah, 55, who was in Ngee Ann City on Monday, said that while he was glad that more people can meet up to have meals together, he had no plans to eat out in large groups, as he and his family have become very used to ordering meals via delivery apps.

“I think Singapore has done very well but if a second wave happens like in Korea, which I think is inevitable, we should be ready and flexible to go back into phase two or even more.”

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