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Chinatown quieter this CNY amid Wuhan virus scare, but shopkeepers say business has been dwindling

SINGAPORE — With the Chinese New Year festivities kicking off this weekend, shopkeepers in Chinatown found the streets a little quieter this year, although they do not believe it has anything to do with the Wuhan coronavirus situation in Singapore.

The crowd in Chinatown on Friday, the eve of Chinese New Year.

The crowd in Chinatown on Friday, the eve of Chinese New Year.

SINGAPORE — With the Chinese New Year festivities kicking off this weekend, shopkeepers in Chinatown found the streets a little quieter this year, although they do not believe it has anything to do with the Wuhan coronavirus situation in Singapore.

Rather, the crowd has been dwindling since previous years, said a stall owner who wanted to be known only as Mr Khing.

The 55-year-old who runs a stall selling peanuts said that his business has been slow since the start of the year and he has seen about a 30 per cent decrease in sales this year as compared to last year.

Two more shopkeepers TODAY spoke to said they also saw fewer tourists in the vicinity as compared with previous years.

The Chinatown area is the favourite haunt of Chinese tourists who account for the bulk of sales for many shopkeepers, but an owner of a souvenir shop who wanted to be known only as Madam Koh, 56, said she is now more wary of tourists who visit her store.

This is after she heard that there have been three imported cases of coronavirus in Singapore.

But in the spirit of the new year, she continues to sell her goods despite the fear in her mind.

“I wanted to close the shop early today because the air is not good right now… and I’m very scared of falling sick but since tomorrow is the new year, I’m going to open it till late,” she said.

Authorities in China have expanded its travel lockdown in several parts of the country in a bid to contain the deadly virus that is spreading throughout Asia and across the world.

More than 800 people have been infected as of Jan 23 and the death toll has hit 26.

‘DIFFICULT TO AVOID CHINATOWN’

Shoppers at Chinatown told TODAY that they are fully aware of the situation in Singapore and are avoiding crowded places.

However, avoiding the vibrant street market is difficult, they said, as it has the items they need for the upcoming festivities.

Ms Jeanette Lim, 36, said she frequents a bak kwa shop in Chinatown and buys a pack for her parents every year.

Another shopper who wants to be known only as Ms Yu, 27, said it is convenient for her to run last-minute errands in the area as “the market has everything”.

But both shoppers would not spend as much time in the Chinatown market as they used to.

“I used to walk for hours just to see what the (shops) sell but every year, it’s the same thing, so I already know what to expect. I know exactly which stall to go to buy what I need and go home,” said Ms Yu.

Tourists who were trying out an assortment of peanuts at the market told TODAY that news of the virus outbreak gave them a scare but they did not want to miss out on the bustling atmosphere in Chinatown.

Among them was Australian Francis Lee, who said: “We are in Singapore for only three days before we head to Thailand and we wanted to get the full Chinatown experience.”

Ms Lee, who was travelling in a group of four and wearing a black mask, said she bought the mask to protect herself as she is looking forward to travelling across South-east Asia in the next two weeks.

“My friends said there’s nothing to be worried about but I’m just a little paranoid so I bought a mask this morning,” said the 27-year-old.

Related topics

Wuhan Chinese New Year coronavirus pneumonia Chinatown

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