SINGAPORE: It is Apr 23 – an odd-numbered date, and only people whose identification card numbers end in an odd number can enter the Chong Pang Market.
But not everyone who turned up this Thursday morning was aware of this.
An elderly woman draws out her identity card and asks one of the safe distancing ambassadors whether she can go in, since the last digit on her IC number is even and it is a Thursday. Armed with illustrations on laminated cards, the ambassador explains to her that it is based on the date, not the day of the week.
But the rule is still not being enforced yet, and the senior citizen gets to join the queue to enter the market.
Chong Pang Market is one of four popular wet markets that has had this new rule imposed under stricter circuit breaker measures announced on Tuesday. The other three are Geylang Serai Market, the market at Block 20/21 Marsiling Lane and at Block 505 Jurong West Street 52.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) announced then that access to these markets would be restricted based on the last digit of patron's identification card numbers beginning Wednesday.
Those whose last digit on their IC is an even number may only visit these markets on the even dates of the month, while those whose last digit is an odd number may only visit these markets on the odd dates of the month.
This measure was introduced to ensure safe distancing as part of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, in addition to earlier measures such as controlled entry and exit points at markets.
ENFORCEMENT BEGINS ON FRIDAY: NEA
In a media release on Thursday, the NEA said it had been taking an "advisory approach" to the new requirements over the past two days, where patrons who came on the wrong date were reminded of the new restriction, but were still allowed to enter the markets.
The restrictions had resulted in decreased queue lengths during the morning peak periods at the four markets, with about 80 per cent of patrons adhering to the date restrictions on Thursday, the agency noted.
There is now "increased awareness of the new entry restriction system" and strict enforcement of the date-based entry restrictions at the four markets will begin on Friday, said the NEA.
"LESS CROWDED AND MORE ORDERLY"
The queue at Chong Pang Market on Thursday moved quickly and the crowd has thinned compared to before, said 67-year-old Madam Hock Hong, who visits the wet market once or twice a week.
Her daughter was there to help her take the groceries home, but waited outside the market as her IC number ended with an even number.
“The market was less crowded and more orderly, no one bumped into me,“ she said in Mandarin.
At the market at Marsiling Lane, a queue that wrapped around the adjacent food centre had formed when CNA arrived on the scene at 7am.
Safe distancing ambassadors fanned out to chaperone the patrons, check their identification cards and explain the new rule to people who joined the queue.
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Ms Elly Puteh, 50, was already on her way home with her marketing as she had come at 5.30am when there was no queue.
She lingered to check with the ambassadors how her husband – whose IC number ends with an even digit – could help her with heavy groceries over the weekend if they cannot go to the market at the same time.
“I want to pass him the groceries but I don’t want to queue again if I go out of the market,” she said. She now goes to the market every morning as her fridge broke down recently, she added.
At this market, there were also some who were unaware of the new rule, such as Chinese national Jiang Zhen Hua.
The 29-year-old was given an exemption to enter the market even though his identification number ended with an even number.
He said he did not mind the regulation: "It's to protect us, we should co-operate.”
Woodlands resident Abu Bakar Hussain, 55, delayed his trip to the market for a day to comply with the rule but said he did not see the need to restrict entry using one's IC number.
"This is not comfortable for us, they can just check how many go in and go out," he said.
Though barricades had been set up as part of crowd management measures at the wet market at Block 505 Jurong West Street 52, the crowds had largely thinned there on Thursday.
About 15 safe distancing ambassadors could be seen at various locations around the market, directing them to the sole entrance to the wet market, as well as checking their NRICs and informing them of the new safe distancing guidelines.
Though some were unaware of the new requirements, they were still allowed into the market.
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On the other end of the island at the Geylang Serai Market, the crowds seen in recent days had largely disappeared, though the market itself was still bustling.
TECHNOLOGY USED TO MONITOR CROWDS
In addition to the IC requirement, technology was used to ensure only 300 people were allowed in at any one time.
Safe distancing ambassadors monitored the number of visitors entering the market via a monitor mounted on the wall, near the entrances to the Geylang Serai Market, with sensors seen suspended from beams on the ceiling of the market.
Once there were 300 people inside, shoppers had to wait in line until others exited before being allowed in.
At each of the two entrances to the market along Changi Road, no more than 20 people could be observed queuing.
NEA said on Thursday that it was testing the use of a digital check-in application, dubbed SafeEntry, at the Geylang Serai Market, adding that patrons there may have their IC or FIN scanned before they enter.
"This will help to support contract tracing and also allow NEA to better fine tune its crowd management measures at the markets," the agency said.
Madam Ella, who was visiting the Geylang Serai market with her son, said the crowds had dipped since last week, when photos and videos circulating had shown crowds of shoppers outside the Geylang Serai Market, with the queue stretching more than 300m along nearby Jalan Turi.
Though she lives in Jurong, she frequents the Geylang Serai market at least once every two weeks as she says it is easier for her to find what she needs there.
The 52-year-old said she did not find it an inconvenience to comply with the safe distancing requirements.
“It’s good because it helps keeps the number of people down,” she said.