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Safe distancing? It’s not happening at supermarkets and people just don’t care, shoppers say

SINGAPORE — Planning a trip to the supermarkets requires some strategy these days and the crowds are not looking to shrink in the coming months. In the mornings, early larks flock there to get first dibs on the best produce. In the evenings and over the weekends, there are even more people headed there. Safe distancing? Forget about it.

Safe distancing? It’s not happening at supermarkets and people just don’t care, shoppers say

Shoppers browsing in FairPrice supermarket at Northpoint City mall in Yishun at 12.30pm on June 2, 2020.

SINGAPORE — Planning a trip to the supermarkets requires some strategy these days and the crowds are not looking to shrink in the coming months. In the mornings, early larks flock there to get first dibs on the best produce. In the evenings and over the weekends, there are even more people headed there.

Safe distancing? Forget about it.

Accountant Michelle Chia, who goes to the NTUC FairPrice Xtra supermarket in Ang Mo Kio Hub twice a week, said that with most retail shops still remaining closed for the time being, supermarkets have been the go-to place for many to “just shop around and be out of their houses for a while”. 

Not only has this resulted in more traffic at supermarkets, shoppers are also not observing safe distancing, which is “worrying”, the 31-year-old said.

When the Ministry of Health (MOH) started publishing a list of public places that people infected by the coronavirus had visited for more than 30 minutes, 10 out of the 16 places recorded between May 19 and 28 were supermarkets.

Ms Chia added: “I have fears of being in crowded spaces now but I have no choice. I have tried to shop online but delivery slots are always not available and the food delivered is also not fresh.”

It was hard to see people keeping a distance from each other at NTUC FairPrice Xtra in Jem mall, Jurong East, in a picture taken last Saturday, May 30, 2020 at around 5pm. Photo: Mei YH

Over two days, TODAY visited several outlets of supermarket chains such as FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant and Sheng Siong, including some that have been listed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry as “high traffic” in a news release on April 21. They are FairPrice Xtra at Ang Mo Kio Hub, FairPrice Finest at Clementi Mall and FairPrice at Northpoint City mall in Yishun.  

These stores were crowded with shoppers who were huddled close together, especially in the sections for fresh produce, poultry, meat and fish. It was the same at the aisles where breads, rice, noodles and canned food were stocked.

SPEED OVER SAFETY 

IT manager Henny Tee, 39, who frequents the FairPrice branch at Northpoint City, said: “When I'm picking vegetables, some shoppers will still shove me and squeeze between others to take what they need because they just want to be fast and get out, but that’s not the way.

“I have seen some people wear gloves while they’re picking items and maybe that’s their way of protecting themselves, but if they are infectious and have no symptoms, they are putting others at risk by standing so close.” 

Patrons congregating at spots around the seafood section of FairPrice Xtra supermarket at Ang Mo Kio Hub on Tuesday June 2, 2020 around 11.30am. Photo: Natasha Meah/TODAY

Ms Chris Teo, 33, a sales assistant who visits FairPrice Xtra at Ang Mo Kio Hub twice a week, agreed. “They are coming into contact with more people when they want to be ‘fast’. They should wait by the side for a while for the section to clear up a bit before taking their pick. That’s what I try to do.”

Homemaker Fiqah Rahmat, 31, who visits Sheng Siong supermarket at Block 88 Tanglin Halt Road at least once a week, said: “Maintaining safe distancing is one thing, but staying out too long is also a risk, so people just want to grab their stuff and go back home as fast as they can.”

She added that she has never witnessed any supermarket employee redirecting anyone along crowded aisles or reminding crowds to spread out. 

“You can see that when they restock the shelves, they themselves don’t practise safe distancing either. Not with one another and not with the shoppers. Perhaps they can restock the shelves when not many customers are around to avoid even more overcrowding, but I guess they want to get their job done fast, too.”

Shoppers move around close to each other at FairPrice Finest supermarket at Bichan's Junction 8 mall on Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 10.30am. Photo: Natasha Meah/TODAY

Ms Fiqah observed that shoppers keep a distance only when they are queueing to pay and some staff members have also been appointed to specifically manage the queues. 

Ms Tee said that this could be because people are more aware of the stickers on the floor marking out where they should stand.

“It’s funny. In a queue sometimes, other customers will move away or tell you not to stand so close to them, but when we are shopping, there is none of that,” Ms Tee added.

‘NO ONE REALLY CARES’

Ms Nadia Abdullah, 51, who works in the service industry, said that “no one really cares” or “follows the rules anymore” when it comes to safe distancing, because there is no one to remind them of it in supermarkets.

At 2pm on Thursday June 4, 2020, the fruit and vegetable section of Sheng Siong supermarket at Block 88 Tanglin Halt Road were packed with shoppers as well as staff members who were restocking shelves. Photo: Natasha Meah/TODAY

For Ms Lee Yu Xian, 32, who visits the FairPrice outlet along Clementi Avenue 3 twice a week, she noticed that the enforcement of safe distancing measures in supermarkets has become lax.

A couple of months back, people made “more of an effort” to abide by the rules, she said. Those in charge of monitoring this took their jobs “more seriously”, she added, and they were seen at the store in the first week of the circuit breaker when the Government ordered non-essential businesses to close and restricted movement of people. There is not so much of that now.

CHOOSE A BETTER TIME TO GO 

Madam Helena Lim, 77, who found herself in the FairPrice Finest branch at Clementi Mall on Tuesday, said: “People are responsible for their own safety; you do not want to catch the virus, so you have to make a decision on how to go about this. Whether you want to go to a more spacious store or pick a timing when you think it's going to be less crowded.

“Personally, I usually go to the outlet at Jem in Jurong East because it's more spacious.” However, she is now avoiding the mall because infected persons had visited the Don Don Donki outlet there, based on the list published by MOH.

Homemaker Crystal Tan, 45, who goes to Giant Express at Block 21 Ghim Moh Road in the afternoon because there are fewer people than in the morning, said: “Most of the good stuff is probably gone but it’s really quite chaotic in the morning. Maybe I get the leftovers, but at least I have a bit more space around me, so I feel like I’m not putting myself at risk.”

WHAT SUPERMARKETS ARE DOING 

When contacted, a FairPrice spokesperson told TODAY that it has introduced various crowd control measures to limit the number of customers within each store when necessary. 

“Trained staff are also deployed to the stores to assist shoppers and ensure that safe distancing measures are followed. Other initiatives include floor markings at checkout queues, broadcast announcements, and in-store posters to inform customers of our strict and stringent processes, as well as contact tracing efforts.”

Asked about the maximum number of shoppers in the store before they will stop admitting people, a personnel in charge of the SafeEntry contact tracing system at FairPrice Finest in Clementi Mall mentioned that when the 150 baskets at the supermarket entrance are all taken, that is when he knows to stop people from entering. 

However, he acknowledged that it is not an accurate method because some customers do not take a basket while others may take two.

Over at FairPrice Xtra in Ang Mo Kio Hub, the person in charge of SafeEntry said that anyone will be admitted into the store at any time and there is no limit. 

FairPrice declined to comment on the different systems put in place at each outlet.

TODAY reached out to the other supermarket chains to find out how they are managing crowds and enforcing safe distancing but Sheng Siong said that it will not be responding to the questions.

A spokesperson from Dairy Farm — which oversees Cold Storage, Giant as well as Jasons and Marketplace — said that as of April 27, safe distancing measures have been put in place in all its outlets and it will “remain committed” in reviewing and implementing extra measures where necessary to safeguard the wellbeing of customers and its team members.

Related topics

supermarket safe distancing Covid-19 coronavirus

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