Zika outbreak hits businesses, as people avoid crowds

Zika outbreak hits businesses, as people avoid crowds
Sims Drive area, around dusk on Aug 31, 2016. Photo: Jason Quah
Published: 10:10 PM, August 31, 2016
Updated: 8:00 AM, September 1, 2016

SINGAPORE — Since news broke of the cluster of locally-transmitted Zika cases in the Aljunied-Sims Drive area on Monday (Aug 29), businesses in the area have taken a hit as potential customers, including those from nearby precincts, stay away from crowded spots.

Still, life has largely gone on as usual for the residents, who have found their neighbourhood come under the national spotlight. They are calm about the situation, although some are paying closer attention to ridding their living environment of potential mosquito breeding sites.

Ms Lian Sok Tin, who sells prawn noodles at the Sims Vista Market & Food Centre with her husband, said they have seen sales drop by about a third since Monday, when the Ministry of Health announced there were 41 confirmed locally-transmitted Zika cases there.

“Once it was out in the news, this market has been very quiet ... We have been earning about S$100 less each day this week,” said the 66-year-old, whose noodles are priced at S$3 to S$4 a bowl.

The couple will take the day off on Thursday, in view of the lacklustre sales. “No point coming in, we will just take the chance to rest,” said her husband.

A 62-year-old fruit stallholder at the market who only wanted to be known as Mr Tan said he intends to order less stock as sales are expected to dwindle further after the seventh lunar month festivities.

“Fruits are perishable, we will definitely decrease our orders since we are not able to sell them,” he said.

Over at Geylang East Centre Market & Food Corner, vendors told TODAY footfall has dropped by about a quarter in the last three days, with more patrons opting to pack their meals rather than dine in.

Mrs Chen, who sells dried foodstuff at the market, said the Zika outbreak was a last straw to the already dire sales at the market.

“Business here has already been going down over the years, for us, it has never been worse than it was in the last 30 years,” she said. Mrs Chen, who starts work before daybreak, says she typically wraps up at 11.30am but now has to stay open at least an hour longer to push for more sales.

Others in the services sector, like Jian Kang Hao foot reflexology centre at Block 113 Aljunied Avenue 2, said they still see regulars and business has remained stable.

Ms Weeko Lee, a property agent who lives in nearby Joo Chiat, said she is avoiding the area, especially when he is out with her children. She has a daughter aged 13 and son, 11, who was just discharged from being warded with dengue fever.

Construction worker Zhao Ah Ping, 45, who stays at a rented apartment in Geylang, also said he “will definitely try to avoid the area” after reading about the Zika outbreak in Singapore. “Of course I am worried of being infected,” he added.

Most local residents interviewed by TODAY said they are not alarmed about the situation.

For instance, Madam Anisha, who operates Ramadhan Minimart at Block 53 Sims Drive and lives at the same block, said her family has stocked up on mosquito repellant and insecticides, but life goes on.

“We read that the symptoms are quite mild, except for those who are pregnant, so we take care but also cannot panic unnecessarily,” she said.

Since confirmed cases were reported in new areas around Paya Lebar Way/Kallang Way on Tuesday, officers from the National Environment Agency were also seen making their rounds in the region and fumigating some places. These include Block 120 Paya Lebar Way, where one of the newly confirmed cases lives, and MacPherson Primary School.

On Wednesday afternoon, announcements were made through the school’s PA system advising students to make their way home before fogging of “the entire school compound” commenced.

Meanwhile, residents in the affected areas — including family members of patients diagnosed Zika positive — are also stepping up precautions to keep their households mosquito-free.

Mr Mohamed Yusoff, whose third daughter (out of four) was diagnosed with the infection on Monday, said his family is stepping up its daily cleaning routine by washing utensils more thoroughly, dousing themselves with mosquito repellant, and looking out for stagnant water in the common areas.

“We will also advise the neighbours to clean up when we see them,” said the 51-year-old who works at Certis Cisco.