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NEA 'encouraged' by takeaway orders at hawkers, reminds patrons to maintain safe distancing

NEA 'encouraged' by takeaway orders at hawkers, reminds patrons to maintain safe distancing

Long queues were seen at Bendemeer Food Centre on May 25, 2021. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it is "encouraged" to see that hawkers are still getting physical orders despite the dining in restrictions, as the agency reminded patrons to maintain safe distancing while queueing for takeaways.

This comes after netizens took to social media to encourage the public to support hawkers, especially those who have not gone online. Dining in was banned from May 16 under Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) restrictions.

Photos of long queues at a number of hawker centres over the weekend have appeared on social media, a sign that people are still patronising the stalls.

But some have questioned if it is wise to join the crowds to buy food, highlighting the current COVID-19 cases in the community and the lack of safe distancing in some queues.

READ: Food outlets, retailers to get help with delivery costs, going online with reintroduced schemes

In response to queries from CNA, the NEA said on Monday (May 24) it is "encouraged by the strong display of support for our hawkers".

"Beyond the rental waiver and subsidies provided by the Government, the public’s continued patronage through food deliveries or takeaways will make a great difference in sustaining our hawkers during this period," a spokesperson said.

"While visiting our hawker centres to make purchases, patrons should maintain a safe distance of at least 1m from other persons while queueing up or waiting for their takeaway orders."

CALL TO SUPPORT HAWKERS

A Facebook post by Makansutra founder KF Seetoh on May 19 was part of the social media drive to support hawkers amid the current restrictions.

"A lot of hawkers, and I mean plenty ... are not online nor on anything except a prayer and hope," he wrote in the post that has been shared more than 3,000 times. 

"They still sit there with all their food nicely laid out and prettily lit, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Permanent closure."

Mr Seetoh, who has voiced support for hawkers on several occasions, said that rental rebates by the Government "aren't helping" as the real cost of survival is "way more".

"I ask that you, if you eat out a lot, please patronise these silent sufferers (some are stubborn, like your ageing parents) but make no bones, they need help," he added.

READ: Hawkers who get on food delivery platforms can receive S$500 funding from NEA during circuit breaker

While the Government has brought back schemes to subsidise delivery costs for food outlets, some hawkers have still not gone online for various reasons, including digital illiteracy.

Facebook groups like Hawkers United - Dabao 2020 have provided a platform for hawkers to advertise their fare and patrons to give recommendations as well as organise group buys.

LONG QUEUES AT HAWKER CENTRES

Another group called Can Eat! Hawker Food has featured traffic reports at various hawker centres, including Ghim Moh and Holland markets.

The group's co-founder Larry Lai told 8 Days that many hawker centres saw long queues over the weekend of May 22 to May 23, including the "thriving" Bendemeer Food Centre.

“Many stalls were doing normal business," the 8 Days article quoted Mr Lai as saying about Bendemeer Food Centre.

He noted that some stalls saw queues of 25 patrons, while the "popular" Nan Rong chee cheong fun stall had about seven to eight customers in line.

READ: Does hawker culture have a future in Singapore? Yes, but perhaps not as we know it

When CNA visited Bendemeer Food Centre at about 12.30pm on Tuesday, several stalls had attracted snaking queues, especially those selling chicken rice, curry rice and braised duck rice. The chee cheong fun stall had sold out.

By about 1.20pm, the popular Ah Xiao Teochew braised duck stall sold out too. Its owner Vince Chow, 41, told CNA that business is still down by 20 per cent since the latest restrictions kicked in.

"When eating in, customers tend to eat more. But when taking away, they tend to buy less," he said.

Still, Mr Chow said it is encouraging that people have gone on social media to urge others to patronise hawkers during these trying times.

"I think that helps," he added. "We still manage to get by, (but) how to help every stall? This (restriction) is long term, more than three weeks."

The popular braised duck rice stall attracted a snaking line at one point. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

Over at Leng Kee Coffee Stall, an assistant, who only gave his name as John, said business has dropped by at least 50 per cent, pointing out that the long queues were only at certain stalls.

"At this moment it's difficult," he said. "Other stalls have no business. People are thinking it's better to stay at home."

BUY ONLINE OR TAKEAWAY?

Some netizens have questioned the crowds at Beo Crescent Market over the weekend, as shown in a video uploaded to the Complaint Singapore Facebook group on Sunday.

User Wan Lacoste McAngus commented that "this behaviour" will surely lead to a "lockdown", while another user, Alan Lau, asked why Singaporeans cannot stay at home as the virus spreads in the community.

When asked about these comments, Mr Chow at the braised duck stall said: "It's better than in the MRT, which is more crowded."

READ: Public transport can be 'very safe' if commuters keep their masks on and refrain from talking, says transport minister

Mr Chow said he will remind patrons to maintain a safe distance from one another if he sees crowding, but acknowledged it is impossible to always keep an eye on everyone.

Most patrons were observed maintaining a safe distance from each other. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

On Tuesday, CNA noticed congestion in some parts of the hawker centre, although most patrons in the queues tried to keep a safe distance.

NEA said the agency and town councils have placed floor queue markings in front of hawker stalls "wherever possible" to guide patrons on safe distancing.

"Safe distancing (officers) are also at hand to remind members of the public to comply with safe distancing and safe management measures including the wearing of masks," the spokesperson said.

READ: More than half of Singapore’s hawker stalls now offer e-payments

Grab driver Albert Kwek, who visits Bendemeer Food Centre at least once a week to buy the "cheap and good" food there, said the place is usually 80 per cent more crowded before the restrictions kicked in.

"I think people will want to have freedom, they cannot stay at home all the time," the 61-year-old said, adding that patrons should always follow the safe management measures.

Signs and floor markings were put to remind patrons to keep a safe distance from each other. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

NEA said it is "critical" that people comply strictly with these measures to protect hawkers and patrons, while patrons who feel unwell should avoid visiting hawker centres and see a doctor instead.

"Should patrons encounter long queues at their favourite stalls, NEA strongly encourages patrons to consider returning at another time," the spokesperson said.

"Alternatively, they could consider trying out other stalls, and return to patronise their favourite stalls another day.

"NEA will continue to closely monitor the situation on the ground, and introduce further safe management measures if needed."

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Source: CNA/hz

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