SINGAPORE: When news broke on Saturday (May 22) that Jem and Westgate shopping malls would be closed for two weeks, their tenants scrambled to make arrangements.
Like many retailers, the tenants at Jem and Westgate had already been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as recently introduced tighter measures to rein in the growing number of community cases.
Then came the news that several people who had worked in or visited the two malls had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health soon initiated free testing for those who had been to the malls between May 10 and 14. On Saturday, it announced there was "likely" an "ongoing transmission" among individuals who had visited Jem and Westgate and the malls were ordered to shut down for two weeks - effective the following day.
READ: Jem and Westgate malls to be closed for 2 weeks amid 'likely ongoing' COVID-19 transmission: MOH
Mr Jason Pay, who owns a Thai food stall at Jem's Koufu outlet, said he received a call at around 11.30pm on Saturday from Koufu informing him about the mall’s closure.
“We were given a window on Sunday from 7am to 11pm to clear anything that we needed to clear,” said Mr Pay.
“We (had) to clear the food in the chiller because they will go bad if left in the chiller for two weeks and redistribute them to other outlets,” he added.
The closure of the malls has left tenants such as Mr Pay in limbo, with all sales halted and staff unable to be deployed to other outlets to work.
“I asked (my staff) to stay at home and clear leave because I don’t want them to be cross-deployed," said Mr Pay.
"I've made a promise to my (staff) that we will not let anyone go. I think we can (do this) as long as there is the aid given by the Government," he said, referring to the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) which was recently enhanced to provide more wage support for F&B businesses.
READ: 24 new community COVID-19 cases in Singapore; cleaner at SHN facility may be source of Jem/Westgate transmission
Similarly at shoe shop Iberyl, employees at its Westgate outlet have also been asked to clear leave. They returned on Sunday to collect and transfer goods to another retail outlet.
This is the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in January last year that multi-tenant malls in Singapore have been ordered to close.
Lendlease Singapore, which manages Jem, said all common areas will undergo additional cleaning, while tenants will have to appoint a cleaning vendor to disinfect their own premises.
It is a similar arrangement at Westgate, which is operated by CapitaLand. Tenants are given the option to engage the mall's cleaning vendor for disinfection services, or find their own vendors from NEA's list of approved companies. CapitaLand said it is negotiating with its cleaning vendor to get a more competitive rate for tenants.
However, some tenants CNA spoke to expressed frustration at having to bear the additional cost of disinfection.
“We were ordered to close, but we still have to pay for the disinfection ourselves and hire appointed cleaners,” said Ms Lena Ong, who runs a kiosk selling socks at Jem.
She said the additional cost means having to fork out money at a time where business is bad and her store cannot open.
“I was quoted S$300 but mine is one of the smallest shops in Jem, so if it’s a larger shop, (the cleaning company) said it can easily be around S$500-S$1,000,” she added.
Her sentiments were echoed by Mr Lim Fong, who is also a tenant at Jem. The director of footwear brand Dr Kong said sales had plunged from about S$500 a day to just S$100 after the tighter COVID-19 measures kicked in last week.
“It is extra cost ... I already had to cut my store's operating hours from 10am to 10pm, to 11.30am to 8pm, because of the drop in demand,” said Mr Lim.
To manage the additional cost of disinfecting his 300 sq ft unit, the 41-year-old said he is now trying to organise group disinfection services among tenants, in hopes of being able to negotiate with cleaning companies for a lower price.
“If there are rental rebates and help from the Jobs Support Scheme during the closure, that will be good too,” he added.
CapitaLand has said that it will waive rental for tenants at Westgate mall during the closure period in order to help them "ride through the challenging period”.
The mall manager is also waiving platform and commission fees for its digital platform to help retailers push their sales online.
Over at Jem, the tenants are hoping for some news soon.
Responding to queries from CNA on whether rental waivers will be offered, Ms Jenny Khoo, head of asset operations at Lendlease Singapore said: “We’re in discussions with our tenants on offering the right assistance during this time and will share further updates in due course."
The Ministry of Health said on Monday that a cleaner who works at Park Avenue Rochester, a stay-home notice dedicated facility may have been the source of infection of the Jem/Westgate cluster, said MOH.
Identified as Case 62933, the cleaner had been to Westgate on May 6. She was confirmed with COVID-19 on May 7.
The Jem/Westgate cluster now has 50 cases linked to it.
"Whole genome sequencing and phylogenetic analysis conducted by the National Public Health Laboratory have revealed that some of the visitors to Jem and Westgate have similar sequences to that of Case 62933," said MOH.