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Singapore

COVID-19: Most diners sticking to smaller groups on first day of Phase 3

SINGAPORE: Singapore entered Phase 3 of its reopening on Monday (Dec 28), just three days before the end of 2020. This comes after one of the requirements for moving to Phase 3 - having more than 70 per cent of Singapore residents on the TraceTogether programme - was met on Dec 23. 

Social gatherings of up to eight people are now allowed in public, up from five. Similarly, households can receive up to eight visitors at any one time.

At malls and large standalone stores, capacity limits for venues have been eased, from 10 sq m per person to 8 sq m per person.

READ: COVID-19: Social gatherings of up to 8 people allowed from Dec 28, further reopening of activities in Phase 3

When CNA visited Junction 8 in Bishan in the late morning, restaurants were filling up, but there were only a handful of groups with six or more people - mostly students and the elderly.

Most diners at the Junction 8 food court sat in smaller groups, although there were several with more than five individuals. (Photo: Cheryl Lin)

For student David Lim, who had gathered with a group of friends to play volleyball and have lunch, the changes were much welcomed.

“It’s pretty epic because now we can play volleyball in groups of eight. Before, we could only play in groups of five - which was three versus two. That wasn’t very fun,” said the student from Nanyang Junior College.

Phase 3 has also come at an opportune time, according to 14-year-old Rachel Yeo, who was with five other friends from her gymnastics team. The last time the group of six met was at the start of 2019.

“We haven’t seen each other in such a long time and it’s good because it’s just in time before the school holidays end,” the student told CNA.

At malls and large standalone stores, capacity limits for venues have been eased, from 10 sq m per person to 8 sq m per person. READ: COVID-19: Social gatherings of up to 8 people allowed from Dec 28, further reopening of activities in Phase 3 When CNA visited Junction 8 in Bishan in the late morning, restaurants were filling up, but there were only a handful of groups with six or more people - mostly students and the elderly.Most diners at the Junction 8 food court sat in smaller groups, although there were several with more than five i

At the food court, a group of seven people in their 60s and 70s sipped tea amid animated conversations.

“We are enjoying this because previously, only a few people could meet, but we have so many friends. How to manage?” joked 72-year-old Diane Goh.

READ: 70% of Singapore residents participating in TraceTogether programme: Vivian Balakrishnan

REVISED SEATING IN HAWKER CENTRES

In line with the start of Phase 3, the National Environment Agency (NEA), NEA-appointed operators, and town councils have revised markings on seats and tables at the dining areas of hawker centres to accommodate group sizes of up to eight people, said the agency in a press release on Monday.

Access control and interim fencing at more markets will also be removed in Phase 3.

In general, tables with eight seats or fewer will no longer have any seat markings, but tables with more than eight seats will still have some seats marked out.

The markings on most of the seats at Tiong Bahru Market have been removed, with new restrictions in Phase 3 allowing groups of up to eight people to dine together. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

This is to ensure that dining groups do not exceed eight people and there is 1m of safe distancing between groups, said NEA in the press release. 

READ: COVID-19: Hawker centre seat markings revised, restrictions at some markets to be removed in Phase 3

At Tiong Bahru Market, which had its access control and interim fencing removed in November, most diners kept to smaller groups even though the markings on seats and tables were removed. 

In line with the start of Phase 3, the National Environment Agency (NEA), NEA-appointed operators, and town councils have revised markings on seats and tables at the dining areas of hawker centres to accommodate group sizes of up to eight people, said the agency in a press release on Monday.Access control and interim fencing at more markets will also be removed in Phase 3.In general, tables with eight seats or fewer will no longer have any seat markings, but tables with more than eight seats will still have some seats marked out.The markings on most

Mr Josh Tan, 29, and his five colleagues were having breakfast at the market on Monday morning after going for a walk at the nearby Henderson Waves. 

They had originally planned the outing before the Phase 3 announcement and intended to go ahead with just five of them, he told CNA. 

“Just nice the news came, then we thought we could invite more people,” said Mr Tan. 

“It’s good that more people are able to go out together. Especially with Chinese New Year coming, it’s a great thing.” 

File photo of a group of six diners eating at Tiong Bahru Market. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

Mdm Lau, 72, who declined to give her full name, was having her weekly Monday morning gathering with her neighbours at the market. 

Before COVID-19, the group used to gather at different markets across Singapore every Monday in groups of eight to 10 or more, she told CNA. 

“I’m happy. No need to go and choose and invite friends, and can sit (at) the same table,” said Mdm Lau, on the new regulations. 

Mdm Lau, 72, who declined to give her full name, was having her weekly Monday morning gathering with her neighbours at the market. Before COVID-19, the group used to gather at different markets across Singapore every Monday in groups of eight to 10 or more, she told CNA. “I’m happy. No need to go and choose and invite friends, and can sit (at) the same table,” said Mdm Lau, on the new regulations. Mdm Lau and Mdm Lim dining with four of their friends. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

While they have been meeting as a group of five for the past few months, the group decided to bring another friend along this Monday, with the new Phase 3 restrictions allowing six of them to dine together, she added. 

“It would be the best if we could meet in a group of 10 people,” her friend Mdm Lim, 68, added in Mandarin. “It’s been a while since we have been to this market together.” 

F&B OUTLETS READY FOR BIGGER TABLES

At Ngee Ann City along Orchard Road, capacity limits have been eased from 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Diners in the malls along the shopping belt mostly stuck to groups of fewer than five - in part because seating to accommodate more than that had not been set up yet.

Diners in the malls along the shopping belt mostly stuck to groups of fewer than five - in part because seating to accommodate more than that had not been set up yet.At the food court in Ngee Ann City, most diners kept to smaller groups of below 5, despite the new regulations allowing up to groups of 8. (Photo: Calvin Oh) However, other restaurants that CNA spoke to said they were prepared to seat and take reservations from bigger groups. READ: COVID-19: F&B businesses welcome Phase 3 announcement, say customers hungry to dine in bigger groups

However, other restaurants that CNA spoke to said they were prepared to seat and take reservations from bigger groups.

READ: COVID-19: F&B businesses welcome Phase 3 announcement, say customers hungry to dine in bigger groups

Chairman of The Prive Group Mr Yuan Oeij said their outlets have made changes to the restaurants’ layouts. 

After it was announced on Dec 14 that Singapore would enter Phase 3, there was “a flood” of reservations and bookings, he added. 

“In terms of preparation, it’s just the routine tweaking of our layout and seating, to ensure we continue to adhere to the usual rules of safe distancing,” Mr Oeij told CNA. 

“Also given the festive season, there will be even more pressure from a minority of customers who do not understand safe distancing sufficiently and want operators to break the rules, and we want to ensure we are ever vigilant against such pressure.”

Mr Oeij also attributed the uptick in reservations to the end-of-year festive season. Empress, a Chinese restaurant under the group, has also seen an increase in bookings for large tables in anticipation of Chinese New Year.

“In terms of preparation, it’s just the routine tweaking of our layout and seating, to ensure we continue to adhere to the usual rules of safe distancing,” Mr Oeij told CNA. “Also given the festive season, there will be even more pressure from a minority of customers who do not understand safe distancing sufficiently and want operators to break the rules, and we want to ensure we are ever vigilant against such pressure.”Mr Oeij also attributed the uptick in reservations to the end-of-year festive season. Empress, a Chinese restaurant under the&

At restaurants that have already optimised their seating layouts, operations will not look too different.

“To respect the rule of having groups one metre apart, not much is (changing) in terms of capacity … It’s just about accepting bigger groups,” said Mohammed Sufi Hassan Jubri, chief operating officer of The Black Hole Group, which runs restaurants such as Tipo Pasta Bar in Kampong Glam. 

“It's more about handling customer expectations because with bigger groups there might be longer service times and waiting times,” he added.

To deal with a potential surge in numbers, the group has also implemented digital queue management systems to avoid lines at its doors.

INCREASED CAPACITY AT ATTRACTIONS

Aside from shopping and dining, Singaporeans have more to look forward to in Phase 3. 

Attractions may seek approval to raise their operating capacities from 50 per cent to up to 65 per cent, with measures in place to prevent crowding in popular areas.

More than 10 attractions have expressed interest or submitted their applications to do so, according to Ms Jean Ng, executive director for Attractions, Entertainment and Tourism Concept Development at the Singapore Tourism Board.

As of Monday, five attractions have received approval for the increase in capacity, namely: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, River Safari and Singapore Cable Car. 

WATCH: Some Singapore attractions to allow more visitors when Phase 3 begins

The capacity of Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s (WRS) four parks will increase with Singapore’s move to Phase 3, said its spokesperson. 

“We are planning for the revised capacity and to cater for the enhanced numbers, while keeping to the safe management measures to ensure a conducive environment for everyone to enjoy our wildlife parks,” said the spokesperson. 

Additional measures at Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, River Safari and Singapore Zoo will include an increased deployment of safe distancing ambassadors, especially during peak days, the spokesperson added. 

“We have always enjoyed steady support by the local community, the majority of whom experience our parks in a safe and socially responsible manner.

“We would like to urge visitors to continue to adhere to the safe management measures in place, including safe distancing and wearing of face masks, as we enter the next phase of recovery.”

MORE ALLOWED AT CONGREGATIONAL AND WORSHIP SERVICES

For congregational and other worship services, capacities will be increased to up to 250 people, MOH announced on Dec 14. 

Live performance elements will also be allowed at such services, along with religious rites or prayers conducted at places of worship, with the necessary safe management measures in place.

READ: Up to 250 people, live performances allowed at worship services in Phase 3 of Singapore's reopening

The Singapore Sinhalese Buddhist Association (SSBA) told CNA it currently has approval to accommodate up to 150 devotees, but it is working towards getting the green light for 250.

That would bode well for the mass gatherings it has in the pipeline. SSBA’s President U. W. (Siri) Amarasuriya said it is holding some events this week that will likely attract more than 100 devotees, but another gathering on New Year’s Day could attract “possibly at least 150 devotees”.

More attendees will also be allowed for marriage solemnisations at home, with the hosting household now able to invite up to eight visitors in Phase 3, excluding members of the hosting household, the solemniser and vendors. 

Previously, a total of 10 people, including members of the household but excluding the solemniser and vendors, were allowed.

LARGER AUDIENCES ALLOWED AT LIVE PERFORMANCES 

Under Phase 3, up to 250 people are now allowed at indoor live performances, in zones of up to 50 people each.

The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay said it is ready for the transition because it has been piloting larger-scale performances since November, after getting the green light from authorities to do so.

“As this is something we have been gradually preparing for ... we have not had to make any additional changes to our manpower requirements, capacity limits or seating configurations for our shows next year,” said Rachelle Tan, director of Venues & Planning at the Esplanade.

It noted that the live performances it has organised so far have all been well-attended - “an encouraging sign that audiences do cherish the opportunity to return to live arts experiences".

READ: Groups of up to 8 allowed for sport activities in Phase 3

The Health Ministry had also earlier said that the capacity for outdoor live performance pilots is being expanded from 100 people to 250 people.

This comes after live performances were allowed to resume on Nov 1 and some venues began piloting larger-scale performances.

Source: CNA/hw(ac)

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