Singapore

Crowds pack Chinatown wet market to stock up on seafood

Shoppers say this is the first time they have to queue to enter as NEA steps up safe measures ahead of CNY

Safe distancing requirements amid the Covid-19 pandemic did not stop hundreds of shoppers from descending on the wet market at Chinatown Complex yesterday morning.

The shoppers, many of whom travelled from places as far as Woodlands and Clementi, were hoping to stock up on popular seafood and steamboat dishes ahead of their Chinese New Year reunion dinners next week - just like in previous years.

But this year, there is a cap of 300 visitors at any given time, says a sign put up at the market.

When The Straits Times visited the market yesterday, more than 120 people spaced 1m apart were queueing to enter through one entrance manned by safe management officers.

Shoppers told ST this was the first time they had to queue to enter the wet market.

At periodic intervals, about 20 shoppers were allowed into the wet market through the main entrance.

But by 11.30am, this entry restriction was lifted, allowing more people to enter the basement wet market.

By noon, the market was packed, and ST estimated that about 300 people thronged the place.

VALUE FOR MONEY

Shoppers told ST they came for the value-for-money seafood and rare yong tau foo ingredients.

Housewife Sim Mei Ling, 67, said she queued for 20 minutes to buy fish paste from a yong tau foo stall as the item is not available elsewhere.

"I'm not worried about catching Covid-19 because I always stand far away from the crowd," she said.

Another shopper who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan went to the market yesterday as she thought she could beat the crowd. The 64-year-old cleaner said she likes this wet market because it offers a wide selection of ingredients.

Some stalls were more crowded than others, resulting in larger groups in some areas.

Ms Low Sai Teng, 64, who runs a seafood stall, said: "There have been twice as many customers since last weekend. By the time we close at 2pm, almost all our prawns are sold out."

Shorter queues were seen at stalls selling vegetables, eggs and other provisions.

"Fish and prawns can be frozen. But vegetables cannot last if people buy in advance," said vegetable stall owner Koh Chew Geok, 56.

There were no markings on the floor of the wet market to remind shoppers to keep a safe distance from one another, leading to queues criss-crossing in some parts of the market.

"We tell our customers, don't visit during peak hours - especially before 9am. It gets so crowded you can't walk down the main aisle," said Ms Chew Hui Min, 19, who helps out at her father's Song Fish Supplier stall.

When ST visited Pagoda Street, Temple Street and Trengganu Street yesterday afternoon, visible crowd control measures were in place - SafeEntry check-ins, temperature scanning and the presence of safe distancing ambassadors.

This was a far cry from the scene last Saturday when The New Paper visited the area and saw throngs of shoppers literally rubbing shoulders with each other on the crowded narrow streets. And only one shop was enforcing SafeEntry requirements.

STEPPED UP MEASURES

When contacted by ST, a spokesman for the National Environment Agency said it has stepped up safe management measures over the past week.

About only 300 visitors are allowed in the wet market at any given time.

Explaining why entry restriction at the main entrance was lifted at 11.30am, the spokesman said: "Access control is lifted when it is observed the crowd has eased for the day."

Urging patrons to visit the market in Chinatown Complex during weekdays and non-peak hours, the agency said it will continue to monitor the situation and may implement further measures for crowd control.

Since Jan 15, more safe distancing ambassadors have been deployed in Chinatown to patrol the precinct daily.

Said Ms Serene Tan, director of arts and cultural precincts at the Singapore Tourism Board: "Police will step in to deal with any law and order incidents."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING: NG WEI KAI

coronavirus