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Phase 3 reopening: Some S’poreans cheer long-awaited get-togethers as bigger groups allowed

SINGAPORE — Mr Tan Jun Hao and six friends from his former workplace have not gathered for almost a year, as Covid-19 restrictions meant they could mingle with one another only in smaller numbers.

Phase 3 reopening: Some S’poreans cheer long-awaited get-togethers as bigger groups allowed

Some people took the opportunity to gather in bigger groups on Dec 28, 2020, including Mr Tan Jun Hao (far right) and six friends at Wild Honey cafe in Scotts Square.

  • Singapore entered Phase Three of its reopening on Dec 28
  • With the easing of restrictions on social gatherings, some Singaporeans got the chance to meet in bigger groups at last 
  • But shopping centres around Orchard Road were relatively quiet post-Christmas
  • At hawker centres, few dined in groups of more than five even as seat markings were adjusted 
  • Families and students welcomed bigger gatherings at beaches, homes

 

SINGAPORE — Mr Tan Jun Hao and six friends from his former workplace have not gathered for almost a year, as Covid-19 restrictions meant they could mingle with one another only in smaller numbers.

But on Monday (Dec 28), when Singapore entered the third and final phase of its reopening after a partial lockdown to combat the virus, the group of seven finally met over a long-awaited lunch at Wild Honey cafe at Scotts Square near the Orchard Road shopping precinct.

And one of his friends took along an eighth member, a three-month-old baby. 

Mr Tan, 39, said that because one of his friends had been on maternity leave, they had not seen her for a long time. 

“At least now that she is able to meet us, we can gather as a larger group,” added Mr Tan, who works in banking.

They were among several groups of Singaporeans that TODAY interviewed at downtown shopping complexes, hawker centres and East Coast Park on the first day of Phase Three.

With Singapore keeping community transmission low, groups of eight people — up from a limit of five — can now gather socially, such as for dining out or visiting homes.

Capacity limits have also been eased at shopping centres and large standalone stores. Attractions may also apply to the authorities to raise their operating capacity from 50 per cent to up to 65 per cent.

As soon as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a fortnight ago that the cap on group sizes for gatherings would be raised to eight, polytechnic student Cheryl Yong, 18, started making plans to meet her friends from secondary school.

Before the pandemic hit, the group of eight friends would meet every two months. But the last time they gathered was in January.

“It feels much more convenient as we have a clique of eight people and we have always had to hang out in smaller groups,” Ms Yong said after a Korean barbecue lunch at *Scape mall.

QUIET START TO PHASE THREE

While shopping complexes may now hold more people, TODAY did not spot huge crowds on Monday. Staff members at the shops said that the malls were more crowded during the Christmas period. 

At lunchtime, entry into the malls was smooth, with few or no queues at the SafeEntry check-in counters.

People entering and leaving Ngee Ann City mall on Dec 28, 2020. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

There also did not appear to be a heavy presence of safe-distancing officers. TODAY counted only two safe-distancing ambassadors patrolling the malls within a five-hour period. 

While some people took the opportunity to gather in bigger groups, the vast majority of shoppers and diners were in groups of fewer than five, based on TODAY's checks.

Food promoter Kessy, who goes by one name and works for Gourmet Grocery, which sells confectionery and condiments at Takashimaya department store in Ngee Ann City mall, said that she had come across only one group of more than five shoppers when TODAY interviewed her at 2pm. 

She added that business has also slowed as the crowds tend to thin out after Christmas.

Echoing this, Ms Wendy Ng, another promoter at Takashimaya, said that there were fewer shoppers on Monday, compared with the post-Christmas periods of years past. 

“Maybe some people are still worried about the virus,” the 63-year-old said in Mandarin. 

LARGER GATHERINGS AT EAST COAST PARK 

At East Coast Park in the evening, it was a lively scene as beachgoers, mostly youths and families with young children, gathered in bigger groups. 

Although the beach was crowded at about 6pm given that students are still in the midst of their year-end break, beachgoers kept a safe distance from other groups.

Beachgoers at East Coast Park on Dec 28, 2020. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Polytechnic student Han Roei Chen, who was having a meal with five others on a park bench, said he was relieved to finally meet people he befriended during a school programme.

“We have been planning this since last year but we never got a chance,” said the 20-year-old.

Building technician Azhan Haneef said he was happy to be able to swim at East Coast Park with his wife and four children at last. Groups of more than five were not allowed at the beach previously. His mother and sister were also there.

“We definitely feel the freedom,” said the 38-year-old. 

HAWKER CENTRE PATRONS STICK TO SMALL GROUPS

At hawker centres at Marine Parade and Old Airport Road, safe-distancing tapes marking seats that are out of bounds have been removed, except at some larger tables.

The National Environment Agency said on Monday that smaller tables will, in general, no longer have seat markings in Phase Three.

Some seats at tables that can hold more than eight people will, however, still be marked. 

“In addition, where seats at adjacent tables are less than 1m apart, some seats may also be marked out to maintain a safe distance between dining groups at different tables,” the agency said.

Safe-distancing tapes removed from seats at the Old Airport Road Food Centre on Dec 28, 2020. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Most of the diners TODAY came across were in groups of five or fewer. At the 84 Marine Parade Central Market and Food Centre, there was only one group of eight diners.

Mr Joseph Tan, 44, who was part of that group, said he was glad to have dinner with his relatives before the year ends.

TAKING HOME GATHERINGS UP A NOTCH

Singaporeans were not only glad to dine out in bigger groups but to receive more guests at home. 

Mr Damien Heng, 25, who works in a bank, can now meet more people at a weekly dinner and drinks session at his friends’ homes, a practice his group started this year as they found the precautions at restaurants too restrictive.

Yet, for him, the move into Phase Three makes little difference. “When Phase Two started (on June 19), the feeling of liberation was there already. Now it's just an extension of that feeling.”

Undergraduate Laura Lee, 20, had eight relatives visit her home for a belated Christmas dinner on Monday. 

Her grandmother, who lives alone, has not seen the family for months.

“We are all very excited to finally meet each other now that restrictions are lifted a bit,” said Ms Lee.

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malls orchard road Phase 3 Covid-19 coronavirus

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