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CBD roars back to life: Few empty tables as office crowds throng eateries after easing of Covid-19 measures

SINGAPORE — The Central Business District (CBD) on Tuesday (April 26) roared back to life as workers returned to their workplaces on the first day of the easing of Covid-19 regulations.

CBD roars back to life: Few empty tables as office crowds throng eateries after easing of Covid-19 measures
Officer workers at Lau Pa Sat food centre about noon on April 26, 2022.
  • Eateries were abuzz with office workers at lunchtime on April 26, with hardly any empty tables to be seen
  • Hawkers and food-and-beverage operators said the lunch crowd was almost double that of weekdays last week
  • Office workers told TODAY they were generally happy to return to some semblance of normalcy, though it came with a pinch of caution
  • They also had to make adjustments to deal with crowded offices and eateries

SINGAPORE — The Central Business District (CBD) on Tuesday (April 26) roared back to life as workers returned to their workplaces on the first day of the easing of Covid-19 regulations.

Food centres such as Lau Pa Sat in Raffles Quay and Maxwell Food Centre near Chinatown, as well as eateries along Shenton Way, were abuzz with office workers at lunchtime, with hardly any empty tables to be seen.

One hawker even said it was a "good sign" that along with office workers was the return of the “chope” culture of using packets of tissue paper, umbrellas and work passes to reserve hawker centre tables. 

Crowds in the Central Business District around noon on April 26, 2022.

The Government announced last week that the cap on group sizes will be lifted along with safe distancing and all workers may return to their workplaces from Tuesday. This is an increase from the previous limit of 75 per cent. 

Employees are also allowed to remove their masks when indoors at the workplace under certain conditions.

This is part of the relaxation of Covid-19 regulations after Singapore lowered its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) from orange to yellow level.

Office workers who returned to their workplaces on Tuesday told TODAY that although they were glad to be reunited with their colleagues, they had to deal with a more crowded office and jam-packed eateries at lunchtime.

For their part, hawkers and food-and-beverage operators told TODAY that the size of the lunch crowd on Tuesday was almost double that of weekdays last week. 

Mr Kok Ho Peng, owner of a drink stall in Maxwell Food Centre, said that for the first time in a long time, he is seeing people “chope-ing” seats.

“I haven’t seen this in a very long time… It’s a good sign,” he said. 

Agreeing, Mr Syed Kassim, 49, who runs Hajmeer Kwaja Muslim Food said with workers returning to the offices, he anticipates the return of his regular customers, though he has yet to see any of them. 

I had to tell all our customers that we were sold out. But we are ordering more stocks to accommodate the larger crowd, especially since I’m pretty sure that business will pick up after today.
Ms Tanvi Kashyat, a service staff member at eatery Smol at Lau Pa Sat food centre

Over at Lau Pa Sat food centre, Ms Tanvi Kashyat, 18, a service staff member at eatery Smol, said that demand was stronger than anticipated, which meant that the outlet ran out of many ingredients for its top-selling grain bowls by lunchtime.

“I had to tell all our customers that we were sold out,” she said. “But we are ordering more stocks to accommodate the larger crowd, especially since I’m pretty sure that business will pick up after today.”

A NOTE OF CAUTION

Office workers interviewed by TODAY said that they were generally happy to return to some semblance of normalcy, though it came with a pinch of caution. 

They also had to make adjustments to deal with crowded offices and eateries. 

Reservations manager Agnes Merciar, 42, who was having lunch with a colleague at Maxwell Food Centre, said that she left her house an hour early to beat the morning traffic. She also left for lunch early to beat the lunch crowd.

Ms Merciar, who has returned to the office permanently after two years of hybrid working, added: “I just want to avoid the crowd. After two years of safe distancing and work-from-home, it feels weird to be in crowded places.”

Similarly, Ms Wilma Perez, 30, who works in a trading company and saw her team of 10 in person for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, said that she left the office for lunch early because she did not want to be in crowded places, even though she is fully vaccinated. 

Ms Grace Keong, who works in marketing and is in her 40s, said that she has seen people keep their masks on in the office even though the rules have been relaxed.

“We’re mostly still wearing masks out of habit. Even outdoors, only a minority are not wearing them,” she added. 

Graphic designer Eddie Sapari, 37, said that even though the rules did not call for it, his group of eight decided to split themselves into two groups “because it felt like a natural thing to do”.

“It’s very weird,” Mr Eddie said. He had been asked to return to his workplace permanently. “We’re so used to being in small groups that even going to lunch in a big group feels weird.”

Related topics

office workers eateries CBD F&B Covid-19

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