SINGAPORE: Shutters were pulled up once again and dust wiped off the display counters as malls and non-essential shops resumed business on Friday (Jun 19), the first day of Singapore's Phase 2 post-"circuit breaker" reopening.
But there was no rush of people or snaking queues, with shoppers making a cautious return to the shops.
In the Ang Mo Kio neighbourhood, foot traffic was still slow at AMK Hub an hour after it opened at 10am. Outside the mall, pockets of shoppers were seen looking at the racks at general stores selling essential household items.
But Ang Mo Kio resident Eric Lai was excited to just be able to saunter through the mall again.
It was his day off, but the chef decided to head to the mall as “staying at home has been very boring”. He had plans to buy items that were unavailable during the circuit breaker and collect a pre-ordered PlayStation game.
READ: Crowds return to Orchard Road, long lines at mall entrances as shops reopen after more than 2 months
Beauty salon owner Serene Ng, who lives across the mall, was on her way to work.
“After this lockdown, I realised that the freedom to go wherever I want makes me so happy,” said Ms Ng.
“I will definitely go back to Ang Mo Kio Central again next week on the weekdays when I have time off ... I’m very happy to finally be able to meet my friends over coffee after our daily morning exercise, and just chit chat,” she added.
Outside AMK Hub, signs were displayed prominently to remind customers to check in on the SafeEntry system.
Employees were onsite to make sure people signed in, with one manning a temperature checking booth.
Some escalators and staircases were cordoned off so that patrons only used designated passageways to move up and down the mall.
A spokesperson from Mercatus, which runs AMK Hub, Thomson Plaza and Jurong Point, said that it has had the necessary processes in place since March to support safe distancing measures . This includes limiting the number of customers into the mall.
Temperature screening and the use of the SafeEntry system will continue to be in place at its malls during Phase 2, the spokesperson said.
And while it looked forward to the return of business normalcy, shoppers should be socially responsible and “play their part in ensuring safe distancing and exercise caution during their visits”, said the spokesperson.
The stores themselves have implemented their own safety measures.
At jewellery store Dreams Collage at AMK Hub, only one person or a group of up to five people will be allowed into the shop at any one time, said owner Ms Neo Bee Khim. Queue poles have been set up outside to manage the crowd.
Display shelves and jewellery will be cleaned after each customer leaves, added Ms Neo.
Other shops in the mall also had posters reminding people to stand at least 1m apart, and to check into the SafeEntry system.
Ms Vee Yan, a supervisor at Dreams Collage, said she was surprised when the Government made the Phase 2 reopening announcement on Monday - she thought retailers would get two weeks’ notice - but was glad as this meant she could finally return to work.
“It looks like people are healthy. That’s good,” Ms Yan said in Mandarin.
All non-essential shops and businesses were told to shut when Singapore imposed a circuit breaker on Apr 7 to stem the spread of COVID-19, leaving the cash tills empty, workers worried for their income and jobs, and the economy in a weakened state.
READ: Singapore will enter a recession this year, ‘significant uncertainty’ over duration and intensity: MAS
While Ms Yan was paid for the two months she stayed at home, she said it was "boring" and was happy to see life return to the mall.
Ms Yan and her colleague started preparations on Thursday to reopen the shop, polishing the jewellery and cleaning off the dust that had settled on the display cases during the two-month shutdown.
They also lined the floor with yellow tape to demarcate queues and indicate the 1m distance customers should stand apart from each other, and practised taking each other’s temperatures.
Across the island, many other shops like Dreams Collage welcomed shoppers again on Friday after Singapore entered the second of a three-step plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions .
On Monday, the Government announced that it had assessed the COVID-19 situation and found that community infection rates had remained stable despite more people returning to the workplace during Phase 1.
With the incidence of cases in foreign worker dormitories falling and no new large clusters emerging, Singapore was ready to enter Phase 2 of the post-circuit breaker plan after Jun 18, 11.59pm, it said.
"This is the announcement retailers have been waiting for ... Elated Excited, Relieved!," the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) wrote on Facebook shortly after the news broke.
"Let’s not waste the containment efforts put in the past 2.5 months. Let’s all work hard to ensure we avert a resurgence in transmission," it added.
The SRA's elation at the news was understandable: With shops shuttered, retailers could only go online to sell their wares, and revenue took a big hit. In April, Singapore's retail sales plunged 40.5 per cent year-on-year, the biggest fall on record.
READ: Grooming services overwhelmed, gyms grapple with distancing measures ahead of Phase 2 re-opening
Hope returned on Friday - albeit with caution.
At the market at Block 724 in Ang Mo Kio, a fashion retailer said in Mandarin that she was happy to open her stall again, but is also worried she will bungle up the safe distancing measures.
After being cooped up at home for two months, she is “still in a bit of a daze”, said Josephine Chua.
“Like, if a customer asked me: 'How much is this', it takes me a while to recall what to say,” she said.
Another stall owner in the same market, Michael Ang, said that being able to reopen his business again felt “very good”.
Expenses had run high at home, and he had no source of income during that period.
Mr Ang, who sells electrical and hardware appliances at Zener Enterprise, was busy unpacking items and moving shelves out of the store.
While life was returning in Ang Mo Kio Central, the crowds were largely at general stores selling essential goods such as food, appliances and household items.
At an budget shop ABC, a long line of customers with blue baskets waited to pay for their purchases.
Ms Anita van den Bos, who lives in Sengkang, said she went to Ang Mo Kio to shop at the ABC store.
On her shopping list were household items such as hand soap and coffee, which she said are more expensive at supermarkets. She was glad the discount store had resumed business.
“I’m just coming out to stock up, then going home,” she said. She said she was afraid to stay out too long, citing the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 infection.
Ang Mo Kio resident Khor Ah Giak shared similar sentiments. She was browsing through a general store after having breakfast with a friend.
“I’m happy I can see my friends again and buy things that have spoiled at home,” she said in Mandarin. “But I don’t want to stay out too long and increase my risk and my family’s risk of catching the virus.”