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Singapore

Many people still masked up in shopping malls on first day of eased restrictions

Some people CNA spoke to were not even aware that wearing a mask indoors was optional in most settings from Monday. 

Many people still masked up in shopping malls on first day of eased restrictions

People wearing masks at NEX shopping centre in Serangoon on Aug 29, 2022. Singapore earlier announced that wearing a mask will be optional from Aug 29, except on public transport and in healthcare facilities. (Photo: CNA/Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Many people were still wearing their masks in shopping centres and malls, despite the eased restrictions from Monday (Aug 29)

Among them was Ms Aminah Johari at NEX shopping mall in Serangoon who was unaware that restrictions have lifted.

Still, Ms Aminah, who does part-time administrative work, maintained that she would continue to mask up until Singapore records fewer than 100 community cases per day.

The 61-year-old said she felt concerned about the announcement as the numbers could increase as the year came to an end. 

“Because as it is, they said cases might go up again at the end of the year and because some people, when they sneeze or cough, they do not cover their mouths (even) before the pandemic,” she said.

Others, like Ms Aminah, were not aware that restrictions have lifted. CNA observed a middle-aged man in a retail store at City Square Mall asking why an employee was not masked up while in the changing rooms. The retail staff member could be heard explaining the new restrictions.

As of Monday, indoor mask restrictions have been lifted across Singapore, except on public transport and in healthcare facilities.

Masks are still required on the MRT, LRT and public buses as well as in indoor public transport facilities like boarding areas at bus interchanges and MRT platforms, but are optional on private transport modes like taxis and private hire cars. 

When CNA visited shopping malls across Singapore on Monday, many people were still wearing their masks indoors, with only a handful walking around unmasked. When asked, those masked said they wore it out of habit or social responsibility. 

There were more people unmasked at Changi Airport at lunchtime, many with luggage in tow. 

Polytechnic student Lim Meng Loek, who was waiting for his friend at Changi Airport, told CNA he wore a mask because he was used to it. 

“Now there is still COVID-19, it is not totally over. So I just continue wearing,” the 20-year-old told CNA, adding that he usually takes his mask off outdoors. 

“Over time slowly … more people will take off their masks. For the first day, I just continue (to wear).”

Mr Lim said that he has caught the virus at least three times, so he feels he has developed some immunity against COVID-19. Since he has hearing issues and wears a hearing aid, it is easier for him to understand people when they are speaking to him without wearing a mask.

“(I take it off) only outside, in open spaces. For indoor spaces, I will see how, if there are fewer people I will take it off. But now we are in Changi Airport, there are a lot of foreigners coming in,” he added. 

“For me, masks are very suffocating. If we can get back to normal and take them off that would be better - I can breathe properly and we can see each others’ faces.” 

Shoppers without their masks in City Square Mall on Aug 29, 2022. Singapore earlier announced that wearing a mask will be optional from Aug 29, except on public transport and in healthcare facilities. (Photo: CNA/Gaya Chandramohan)

Homemaker Shaleen Agrawal, who was seen seated at Jewel Changi Airport, said that she kept her mask on in the airport area as many travellers still came in from other parts of the world. 

She added that she wore her mask out of habit and will continue to do so in crowded areas.

“When we heard the news we were so happy and excited but yet on the day we are allowed to take it off we still have it on,” the 45-year-old noted while laughing. 

That said, Mrs Shaleen felt it was better to mask up. “It is for the protection of each other. I have kids in my family and I do not know whether you have elderly in yours. It is just the more responsible thing to do.” 

According to a survey by YouGov conducted on Aug 25 and Aug 26, nearly half, or 48 per cent of the 1,046 respondents said they would always wear a mask in shopping centres.

Sixty per cent of respondents said they would always wear a mask on private transport modes, and 58 per cent of them said they would always wear one at the airport or in train stations.

Private transport modes and the airport also emerged as the top indoor places respondents felt uncomfortable visiting, now that wearing a mask is no longer required, the survey showed. 

Singapore saw 1,361 reported COVID-19 locally transmitted cases on Sunday, according to figures from the Ministry of Health (MOH). 

CONTINUING TO WEAR A MASK OUT OF SOCIAL PRESSURES

Others who went unmasked indoors on Monday told CNA that they would still mask up if others around them expressed their discomfort, or if establishments insisted that patrons wear masks. 

At NEX, interior designer Thomas Seah said that a retail assistant had “shouted” at him for failing to mask up while in a shop selling beauty products.

According to the 65-year-old, the retail employee claimed that his staff would get infected because of Mr Seah and that they would only change the regulations if they received a circular from the management. 

It would be in circumstances like these that he would continue wearing a mask, Mr Seah said. 

“People get nervous when I don't wear a mask, so it's more for psychological reasons (that I wear a mask). I don't want people to scream and shout,” he said. 

Others like entrepreneur Preeti Darbari said that COVID-19 has become a part of life and that there are medications to treat it. 

“I will take life as normal, and COVID-19 is like a flu, we should take it normally ... and not make a huge thing out of it so that the next generation of kids will start behaving normally again,” the 43-year-old said while unmasked in City Square Mall. She added that she did not want children to grow up “expressionless” behind a mask.

Shoppers wearing their masks at Tampines 1 shopping mall on Aug 29, 2022. Singapore earlier announced that wearing a mask will be optional from Aug 29, except on public transport and in healthcare facilities. (Photo: CNA/Gaya Chandramohan)

Ms Christiana Martins, who is a mother of two, said she sent both her children aged five and seven to school without masks today. Ms Martins, who is from Brazil, had just left the gym in Tampines 1 and was not wearing a mask in the shopping mall.

She told CNA she was looking forward to life returning back to normal with the lifting of indoor mask restrictions and observed that most of her older son’s classmates in Primary 1 came to school with their masks still on. 

“Here in Singapore, we already have boosters and everything seems all right, I don’t think there will be any problems if you don’t wear a mask. I feel more free and I can breathe better, because after using a mask for so long this is so much better,” she added. 

“I just felt a little bit uncomfortable because everyone was still wearing one,” said Ms Martins. After seeing everyone with their masks on in the shopping mall, she sent a message to her husband to confirm that restrictions would be lifted from today.

“I don’t judge anybody, but it is funny because you start to feel uncomfortable because you look around and you are the unique one,” she said with a chuckle. 

Polytechnic students Daniel Cheong and Isaac Tan, who are friends from church, spoke to CNA while queueing to order food at Tampines 1 - both were not wearing masks. 

“I think what made me decide (to take it off) is hearing about the news, hearing about how it is safe now, there aren’t any spikes in infections or things like that, so I think I’ll just take off my mask,” said Mr Cheong, 19. 

“The Government is doing a good job of containing the cases, so I guess for me, I feel safe to take it off.” 

The two friends also observed that many people in the mall were still wearing their masks. 

“It’s also because people are not used to taking off their masks at the moment because it’s a new rule and it has just been implemented today. I think definitely within the next few days people will start to take off their masks as they feel more safe and know the new rules better,” said Mr Cheong. 

When asked how not wearing a mask indoors felt after more than two years of wearing one throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, 20-year-old Mr Tan said he felt “quite comfortable”.

“Especially because Singapore is so hot. So when you sweat, the feeling in your mask just does not feel very good.” 

Listen: will you continue wearing masks in Singapore?

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Source: CNA/hw(rj)

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