SG News (Straits Times)

Coronavirus: Popular hangout spots in Singapore now ‘ghost towns’ amid social distancing measures, entertainment venues’ closure

By April 17, 2020 No Comments

Shops were either closed for business, such as this one in Haji Lane (above), or devoid of customers, such as in Boat Quay (right) yesterday. Shop owners say they have been badly hit by the travel ban and the social distancing measures.

Shops were either closed for business, such as this one in Haji Lane (above), or devoid of customers, such as in Boat Quay (right) yesterday. Shop owners say they have been badly hit by the travel ban and the social distancing measures.

Between social distancing measures and the mandatory closure of entertainment outlets, the usual crowds were nowhere to be seen yesterday. Business had all but halted at sites usually popular with both Singaporeans and tourists.

In Haji Lane, local shops were largely devoid of shoppers, although a number of passers-by were taking pictures of the iconic street or window shopping when The Sunday Times visited yesterday.

Shop owners said they have been badly hit by the pandemic – first, with the travel ban, and then, with the social distancing measures.

Many estimate that business has dropped by as much as 90 per cent, while footfall has gone down to almost zero on several days a week. The crowd yesterday was just 20 per cent of what it used to be before the pandemic, said storekeepers.

Mr Zachery Masot, 52, who owns eight stores on the street, said: “It used to be really crowded; the tourists would come in busloads.”

Like many of the other local business owners, Mr Masot and his business partner have been dipping into their business reserves to pay rent and wages, and are negotiating for a rental rebate from their landlords.

While the Government has announced property tax waivers to aid businesses hit by the pandemic, the benefits do not necessarily trickle down to tenants, he said.

“Everyone is facing difficulties, but to small businesses like us, it is a big hit,” said Mr Masot.

Shop owner Gloria Lee, 45, said business is almost non-existent, as most of her customers are tourists.

“It (the coronavirus) may drag on for a long time, but (our businesses) will die very soon,” said Ms Lee, who sells customised slippers.

 
 
 
 

Only a small number continued to patronise the shops, including student Neo Rong Wei, 24, who was there for dinner with his friends.

“We’ve already planned for this and made the reservation. I just had to take the necessary precautions,” said Mr Neo, who had brought a mask to use on public transport.

Usually bustling on Saturday nights, Boat Quay is now a “ghost town”, said patrons and staff there, even though about 60 per cent of the establishments were still open.

Most were about only 10 per cent to 20 per cent full when The Sunday Times visited last night. Among those open was Barbary Coast, located in North Canal Road.

“With so few people going out, business is down over 80 per cent over the past few months, and footfall is down about 95 per cent… It’s really hard these days,” said co-founder Michael Callahan, 41.

But there were still a handful of loyal patrons like Mr Chris L. who was in the area for a drink.

“As long as we’re socially responsible, extra vigilant and extra safe, I think it’s OK to be out… Who knows, something might happen. I hope there’s no lockdown,” he said.

 
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