SINGAPORE: Several businesses in the Novena area said sales have dipped in recent days as some customers choose to avoid malls close to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) where Singapore's largest active COVID-19 cluster has emerged.
There are 35 cases linked to the cluster as of Monday (May 3). A nurse who works in Ward 9D first tested positive on Apr 27. Several hospital employees, patients and visitors have since been confirmed to have the coronavirus.
Four hospital wards have been locked down.
When CNA visited Velocity @ Novena Square at 1pm on Monday, the mall’s food court was about 70 per cent full.
While it was relatively busy on the first floor where food and beverage outlets are located, it was noticeably quieter on the higher floors of the mall.
Businesses CNA spoke to at the mall noted that they have been seeing fewer customers since news of the cluster emerged.
Optical shop Better Vision’s Novena outlet saw about 60 per cent fewer customers over the Labour Day weekend, compared to the previous weekend.
“Just totally no customers to the mall, no walk-ins," said marketing manager Naparat Panthaisong. She added that at the moment, the shop has no plans to tighten safe distancing measures beyond the required SafeEntry check-in.
Business has “not really (been) the same” since news of the cluster, said Mr Wynn Lee, owner of hair salon The Vogue.
Four out of 10 scheduled customers for Monday had called to cancel their appointments, he told CNA. Some cited concerns over the TTSH cluster as their reason for cancelling.
Although he is “worried”, Mr Lee said that there is nothing he could do about the situation.
He also does not plan to tighten measures beyond the SafeEntry check-in yet, as the Government has not announced any new measures.
Mr Joe Chen, the owner of Frida which sells women's clothes, bags and accessories, said he has received calls from long-time customers to check if things were okay.
However, there has not much been much of a change in terms of footfall, he said.
"Of course I was worried, the first thing about the business because we are so near to Tan Tock Seng (Hospital)," said Mr Chen, who noted that the business previously tried to operate online without much success.
"End of the day ... we have to live with it, we have no choice, we have to open."
The manager of Yayoi’s United Square outlet, who only gave his name as Loong, said that the Japanese restaurant saw a 50 per cent drop in business on Saturday, and a 15 per cent fall on Sunday. But this could be because of the Labour Day holiday, he said.
“(I am) quite worried,” he said, adding that he will observe the crowd this weekend. “If (this) weekend drop again, (I’m) also worried for the sales.”
According to Mr Loong, the restaurant implemented stricter safe distancing measures in response to the cluster. Only groups of six or fewer customers are allowed into the restaurant, unless they are a family unit. In addition, only one representative may queue for a seat in the restaurant.
Also concerned is ice-cream parlour Udders, which has an outlet just outside United Square.
Director Wong Peck Lin said she did not see a "very significant" difference, as it was still recent. She added that other factors could have affected sales, like rain or the school holidays.
Schools are closed on Monday for the Labour Day holiday.
She is, however, “mildly worried” that the TTSH cluster could affect business, as she is not sure how the situation will evolve. If the number of cases increases further, it would end up affecting business across Singapore.
Udders already has “very strict (safe distancing) measures” in place at their outlets, said Ms Wong, with regular inspections, temperature taking, SafeEntry check-ins and “strictly enforced” distancing between groups of customers.
As such, further measures are “not needed” at this point, she said.
In response to CNA's queries, UOL Group, which operates both Velocity @ Novena Square and United Square, said it has deployed “additional resources” to enforce social distancing measures and lower capacity limits in its malls.
“UOL sent out a reminder last Friday to all our tenants, retail and office, to monitor their health and be mindful of safety measures that were already put in place including SafeEntry and temperature recording for all visitors at all times,” said a UOL spokesperson.
“We have also stepped up our cleaning frequency and ensured hand sanitisers are available at entrances, counters and lifts.”
The spokesperson noted that UOL will continue to remain vigilant in order to safeguard the health and safety of shoppers and visitors.