Trains and roads more crowded after Singapore exits circuit breaker

Trains and roads more crowded after Singapore exits circuit breaker

With more people returning to work or school following the end of the COVID-19 circuit breaker, trains and buses were noticeably busier on Tuesday (Jun 2). Farez Juraimi with more.

SINGAPORE: With more people returning to work or school following the end of the COVID-19 “circuit breaker”, trains and roads were noticeably busier on Tuesday (Jun 2).

During the morning peak hour, more commuters were seen at MRT stations such as Raffles Place, Tanjong Pagar, Bishan and Paya Lebar, compared to Monday when the circuit breaker was still in place.

There was also morning congestion along certain stretches of the Central Expressway heading into the city. 

It was visibly busier in the central business district as well, as workers returned to their offices.

Just a day before, only a small number of people were seen at Raffles Place, mainly security officers, frontline bank employees and a handful of food delivery riders.

Raffles Place June 1 2020
A virtually deserted Raffles Place on Jun 1, 2020 - the last day of Singapore's circuit breaker period aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Marcus Ramos) 

Raffles Place phase 1 post-CB
Workers at Raffles Place on Jun 2, 2020, the first day after Singapore's circuit breaker period. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

Some said returning to the office felt like an unfamiliar experience after more than two months of working from home. 

“When I came into the office, I couldn’t remember my password,” said one employee at Raffles Place who only wanted to be known as Leo. 

The 38-year-old, who works in commodities trading, said he had been asked to go into the office later, at about 9.30am, to avoid crowds on public transport. 

He told CNA that his work often involves “important documents” that have to be handled in person, adding that the company had discussed new working arrangements for post-circuit breaker.

This involves split teams alternating between working from home and going into the office on alternate weeks.

READ: MOE to review how to 'blend' classroom and digital online learning as schools reopen after COVID-19 circuit breaker

READ: Singapore to exit circuit breaker on Jun 1, visiting of parents, places of worship allowed with restrictions

While the arrangement could be disruptive, Leo said he accepts that it is necessary in order to keep to safe distancing measures.

Singapore is reopening its economy in phases, after a fall in the number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

In Phase 1, businesses that operate in settings with lower transmission risks are allowed to open. These include most offices and manufacturing firms.

Raffles Place - phase 1 circuit breaker
Office workers at Raffles Place during lunch hour on Jun 2, 2020, the first day after the end of the circuit breaker. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

However, authorities said telecommuting must be used to the “maximum extent”.

“Those who have been working from home so far should continue to do so, and employees should go to the office only where demonstrably necessary,” the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said earlier in May.

READ: COVID-19: Phase 2 of post-circuit breaker reopening could begin before end-June, says Lawrence Wong

This is why crowds in the CBD have not returned to levels seen before the coronavirus hit.

Graphic artist Shah Ismail said his employers have chosen to continue allowing staff members to work from home until further notice. 

“In our line of work, it’s fairly easy to work from home,” said the 38-year-old. 

He was out on Tueday to meet clients - his first such meeting in more than two months.

“It felt like my first day at work,” he added. 

Raffles Place MRT Jun 1 2020
Raffles Place MRT station on Jun 1, 2020 - the last day of the circuit breaker period. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

Raffles Place MRT June 2 2020
Commuters at Raffles Place MRT station on Jun 2 2020, the first day of phase one of Singapore's post-circuit breaker period. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

Trains, too, were not as crowded as they were before the circuit breaker was imposed on Apr 7.

“I got a seat without anyone sitting next to me,” Mr Shah said, noting that this was even though the stickers reminding commuters to practice safe distancing had been removed from alternate seats.

Bishan MRT Jun 1 2020
Commuters at the Bishan MRT station on Jun 1 2020. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

Bishan MRT June 2 2020
More commuters could be seen at the Bishan MRT station on Jun 2, 2020. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

READ: Singapore’s circuit breaker and beyond: Timeline of the COVID-19 reality

Now that the circuit breaker is over, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it will increase the frequency of trains and buses. Train operating hours will also return to normal.

“As Singapore enters Phase 1 of its safe reopening on Jun 2, more people will return to work and school. We will increase the capacity of the trains and buses to the maximum,” said LTA in response to media queries.

READ: Travelling or telecommuting – how COVID-19 could affect public transport costs in Singapore

LTA added that safe distancing stickers - which had been placed on train seats and boarding queues at bus interchanges during the circuit breaker – would be removed from most places in the public transport network due to the expected difficulty in maintaining physical distancing between commuters. 

Certain bus services where demand is expected to be low - such as night bus services and those heading to attractions such as East Coast Park, the zoo and Resorts World Sentosa - will remain suspended, LTA said. 

Source: CNA/az(gs)

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