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As circuit-breaker measures kick in, a usually packed CBD is largely deserted

SINGAPORE — By 7pm on Tuesday (April 7), the first day that the month-long “circuit-breaker” measures for the whole country kicked in, there was barely a soul in sight in the Central Business District (CBD) area. Most shops were shuttered and there was an unfamiliar hush in the air.

For many working in the heart of the business district, they had to pack their belongings to work from home from April 7, 2020, because only services deemed as essential will continue operating on-site.

For many working in the heart of the business district, they had to pack their belongings to work from home from April 7, 2020, because only services deemed as essential will continue operating on-site.

SINGAPORE — By 7pm on Tuesday (April 7), the first day that the month-long “circuit-breaker” measures for the whole country kicked in, there was barely a soul in sight in the Central Business District (CBD) area. Most shops were shuttered and there was an unfamiliar hush in the air.

When TODAY arrived at 5pm at Raffles Place Park, only a handful of people were walking around in what would usually be the bustling rush hour as commuters scurry home.

A few hopeful taxi drivers lined up outside office buildings waiting for passengers who were few and far between.

TODAY spoke to some of the people walking about — all were working in essential services such as banking, food and beverage, and maintenance work — and they said that the number of people in the area had dropped by about 70 to 80 per cent compared to a typical day.

A passenger entering an uncrowded train at Raffles Place MRT Station on April 7, 2020. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

The uncharacteristic quiet at a time when crowds of commuters were usually on the move was nothing Bank of China employee Xiao Wei Qiang had seen on a weekday.

“It’s almost like a weekend,” he said. The 33-year-old's job deals with markets, and is considered an essential service.

“I guess the retail (stores) and all the eateries won’t be able to sustain (business). They’re (normally) closed on the weekend.”

An administrative worker who wanted to be known only as Ms Chung and who is employed at a private school located near the CBD, said that in her close-to-30 years working there, she had “never seen anything like this”.

“It’s good,” the 63-year-old said. “I want this one month so that I can slow down at work.” She had returned to her office to collect her belongings to take home, where she will be based during the upcoming month.

At Raffles Place MRT Station, the trains were far less crowded than usual at 7pm, with seating available for all commuters.

The bus interchange at HarbourFront saw significantly fewer commuters on April 7, 2020. Photo: Yong Jun Yuan/TODAY

A banker in his 50s, who identified himself as just Mr Chew, said that the frequency of the MRT trains has also dropped over the last two days.

“The trains also look like they’re stopping for a longer time, the doors stay open for longer so that more people can go in,” he said.

LESS CHOOSY ABOUT FOOD, SOME FAMILY MEMBERS WORRIED

For many working in the heart of the business district, the enhanced safe-distancing measures announced last Friday — where only services deemed as essential will continue operating on-site — mean that they had to pack their belongings to work from home.

For some, however, this is not an option.

A cleaner at the Ocean Financial Centre, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, said that his family members are afraid for him. He is in his 60s and may be more more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“But they can’t do anything to stop me,” he said. “I just have to tell myself to take the precautions.”

Whereas he and his colleagues used to go to the food court to eat, they now buy ready-to-eat meals from a supermarket and eat at the pantry in the building.

The bright side? “There are much fewer people (in the office) now, so there is less work to do,” he said.

Banker Sharon Abraham, 30, said that the near-emptiness is "odd" but it is a respite when it comes to travelling to and from work. "The bus stops are not as crowded," she said.

Though some people are relieved that they do not have to endure the usual squeeze on the commute home, this new normal is disconcerting to one banker in his 50s, who wanted to be known only as Mr Wong.

“I prefer it to be crowded than quiet,” Mr Wong, who works at the Ocean Financial Centre, said. “The hustle is part and parcel of life, and life as we know it is at a standstill.”

Orchard Road at about 2pm on April 7, 2020, the first day most people in the country have to stay home or work from home. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Another banker who also works at Ocean Financial Centre and gave his name as just Allan said that although the food choices are fewer, he will not be picky given the severity of the public health crisis.

“My colleagues will be going around to find whatever we can (take away), and I’ll just eat whatever,” he said.

TODAY observed that about 70 per cent of retail and food-and-beverage stalls in the CBD were closed at 5pm.

And those that chose to remain open described a dire scenario: A slump of about 70 to 80 per cent in customers on the first day of the circuit-breaker measures.

Many stores have considered taking a break for the month, if sales do not improve by Thursday.

At salad store Kipos, which operates at One Raffles Place, head chef Tan Ting Yi said that they have rotated teams of three to operate the store during this period since there is no need for workers to handle dine-ins. Normally, there would be six people working at once.

As to whether the store will be open for the whole month, he said that the management would have to play it by ear.

“We can still get customers now, but we don’t know if the lockdown will be extended, whether it will become stricter,” the 32-year-old said.

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Covid-19 coronavirus circuit breaker CBD business mrt bus

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