Singapore circuit breaker exit: Safe distancing not mandatory but commuters try their best to stay apart on public transport

Commuters on the train at around 8am on June 2, 2020. — TODAY pic
Commuters on the train at around 8am on June 2, 2020. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, June 2 — Litigation secretary Joanne Lau, 22, left her home for work 20 minutes earlier than usual, expecting to have to battle the usual peak-hour crowd this morning.

After all it was the first day of the easing of circuit breaker measures and a number of workers would be making their way back to the office.

But her half-hour journey from Yishun to Raffles Place at 8am was a lot more pleasant than her usual commute during pre-Covid-19 days.

“I thought there would be a lot of people coming back to work today,” she said.

It, however, felt more like a Saturday in the Central Business District than a weekday, she added.

When TODAY arrived at Bishan MRT at 8am on Tuesday, there were significantly more commuters than during the circuit break period but passengers were always able to get on a train when it pulled in, with trains arriving at one- or two-minute intervals, compared to three to five minutes previously.

The latter frequencies were in response to a drop in daily train ridership of more than 75 per cent during the circuit breaker period.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that on Tuesday train and bus intervals had returned to pre-circuit breaker levels and were operating at shortest headways that were “operationally feasible”.

Train operating hours have also returned to normal, it added.

TODAY noticed today that some passengers looked hesitant after boarding the train and approaching empty seats.

They only sat down once they glanced and saw that there were other passengers sitting side-by-side.

During the circuit breaker period which started on April 7, commuters had to abide by safe distancing rules on public transport – alternate train seats were blocked out and commuters had to stand in designated spots marked with green stickers pasted about one metre apart.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan however announced yesterday that it would be “challenging” to get commuters to adhere to safe distancing with the easing of circuit breaker measures so it would no longer be mandatory.

Commuters said that while it was no longer mandatory, they tried their best to not go shoulder-to-shoulder with others.

Rayden Tan, 22, investment funds and advisory intern at BNP Paribas said he noticed that many still sat on alternate seats although there were no stickers.

“I think a lot of people are practicing personal distancing rather than having to comply with any rules,” said Tan who managed to get a seat when travelling from Yio Chu Kang station to Raffles Place between 8am and 8.30am.

“As we move forward, I think it is going to be the new normal. Everyone is going to be distancing themselves consciously.”

Lau agreed that people were consciously avoiding bumping into one another, unlike before.

“There is still a bit of distancing, I would say. But definitely not 1m, less than 50cm,” she said.

Most commuters TODAY spoke to said they were not concerned about the risk of infection on public transport despite the lack of mandatory safe distancing measures, as long as people adhered to the rule of wearing masks in public.

Others said they felt reassured to see security guards ensuring that passengers wore their masks properly while entering MRT stations.

Banking officer Nurhuda Ariffin was actually happier that there were no longer safe distancing stickers on the train.

During the circuit breaker period, there were fewer passengers but she was unable to sit down during her 40-minute commute.

“There are more spaces for the commuter to sit now,” said the 41-year who is considered an essential worker.

Niva Burman, 28, a sales manager at IT solutions provider Technopals, who was headed to work at Raffles Place however went a step further to protect herself while on the train by wearing a pair of disposable rubber gloves.

While she felt that Tuesday morning’s commute was “still comfortable” as she was able to keep a safe distance from others, she said it probably would not be the case after two weeks.

Gesturing to the largely-empty square bordered by One Raffles Place and Chevron House: “As you can see, many people have not started (coming to their physical office). Maybe they are going to start from the next week or so. — TODAY

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