Confusion, frayed tempers at Singapore coffee shops, hawker centres, malls on firstt day of entry curbs for unvaccinated patrons

Due to checks on vaccination status, a long line of people were waiting to enter Tampines Mall on Oct 13, 2021. — TODAY pic
Due to checks on vaccination status, a long line of people were waiting to enter Tampines Mall on Oct 13, 2021. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Oct 13 — People were ticked off or confused by new rules that kicked in today barring those who are not vaccinated from entering coffee shops, hawker centres and malls. Checks by TODAY showed that many of these places were ill-equipped to conduct checks.

Cheng Fook Seng, 66, who works at a drinks stall of a coffee shop located at Block 166 Woodlands Street 13, said that he was scolded or verbally abused by some patrons this morning when he asked to check their vaccination status.

However, he appeared resigned to the situation, adding: “I cannot do anything if they want to stay. I can’t chase them away.”

Cheng suggested that the Government deploy officers to enforce the latest measures because it was just impractical for workers manning stalls to do so. 

Other people working in coffee shops that TODAY visited said the same thing when interviewed, adding that they were short of manpower to conduct checks.

TODAY has asked the National Environment Agency (NEA) for its response to the problems these workers highlighted.

Last Saturday, the Government announced that people who are not fully vaccinated will not be allowed entry into malls, large standalone stores, attractions, hawker centres and coffee shops, so as to protect them and reduce the strain on the healthcare system.

At hawker centres and coffee shops, the customers’ vaccination status will be randomly checked by enforcement officers.

Grace Fu, the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, said a day before that coffee shops should designate a “fixed point” such as a drinks stall, where staff members can check the vaccination status of customers who wish to dine there.

Coffee shops

When TODAY dropped by seven coffee shops today, the checks were inconsistent across the various venues.

At two coffee shops in the Marine Terrace area, people who were having lunch said that they were not asked about their vaccination status.

One customer at Chang Cheng Mee Wah Coffeeshop, furniture tradesman Toh Ah Long, 28, said that he was unaware of the new rules and was not asked about his vaccination status when he bought food.

Chin Chee Keong, 52, the coffee shop’s supervisor, said that he had informed staff members there to do the checks and pointed to posters pasted at the different stalls informing customers of the new rules.

When told that the checks were not done for some, he said: “Today is the first day, so we’re just monitoring.”

At the neighbouring MT59 Food House, a stallholder who declined to be named said that she was not informed by the coffee-shop owner about how the shop will be ensuring that unvaccinated people do not dine there.

Elsewhere, the situation appeared to be under control.

Instead of having just workers at the drinks stall perform all vaccination status checks, Hua Hua Eating House in Marine Parade split the duties among the different stalls.

All stallholders have stickers to give to customers after they prove that they are vaccinated.

Hua Xiao, 67, who runs both the coffee shop and the drinks stall, said: “We all cooperate that way and it makes it easier on us.” 

Similarly, patrons at the S11 Food House located at Block 744 Yishun Street 72 had to show proof of their vaccination status first before being served food.  

Hawker centres

Confusion reigned over the verification procedures at Chong Pang Food Centre in Yishun.

When TODAY went there at around noon, the person manning the SafeEntry check-in booth at the entrance appeared visibly flustered and stressed.

“I feel very pressured,” a staff member who wanted to be identified only as Moni said.

“(My boss) told us over the weekend that only those who were vaccinated could eat here, but there are so many people coming in, I can’t stop (to check) every one of them.”

It was difficult to manage the crowd as some people entered through the exits, or did their SafeEntry checks too quickly for her to ask them their status, she added.

She was also unclear if it was her duty to check the vaccination status of customers.

She was told that SG Clean Ambassadors from the NEA would do so, but an ambassador told her that was not the case.

When queried, NEA referred TODAY to its advisory jointly issued with the Singapore Food Agency last Saturday, which specified that enforcement officers will conduct selective checks on patrons at hawker centres.

At 84 Marine Parade Central Market and Food Centre, two safe distancing ambassadors were seen reminding customers that they had to be fully vaccinated if they wished to have their meals there, but there were no enforcement officers verifying their vaccination status when TODAY was there at noon.

Malls

Several malls had their staff members manually check the vaccination statuses of shoppers via the TraceTogether mobile application on their phones. They did not have equipment that automatically displays their status when shoppers scan their TraceTogether token.

This resulted in snaking queues outside some of these venues, including Tampines Mall and Parkway Parade.

In the morning, when TODAY was at Parkway Parade, a quarrel broke out between a staff member and two seniors.

The pair were upset because they had with them only their TraceTogether tokens and did not have the app installed in their phones. 

The staff member, who wanted to be known only as Mr Mohd because he was not allowed to speak to the media, later told TODAY: “We let them in but we have to tell them that they won’t be allowed to from next week. But some of them will still be unhappy.”

On Sunday, the authorities said that it will grant a one-week grace period for malls to put in place the procedures to conduct checks.

They added that they were aware of public concerns about the need for some unvaccinated individuals to access medical and childcare related services in the malls and that provisions will be made to allow for access to these services.

Late yesterday, they announced details of the exemptions that will be granted to unvaccinated people to enter malls for medical or learning services. These are patients who need medical attention from doctors, dentists and registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, as well as caregivers who need to drop off or pick up children from preschools and childcare centres.

Several malls such as Katong Shopping Centre, Jem and Northpoint City were not conducting any checks when TODAY visited on Wednesday afternoon. 

Staff members manning the SafeEntry check-in booths at entrances to Northpoint City in Yishun said that the mall’s management was in the process of upgrading the check-in systems such that they displayed the vaccination status of incoming shoppers.

Frasers Property Retail, which manages Northpoint City, said in response to queries that its check-in systems were progressively upgraded for all 14 of its malls since Wednesday afternoon.

Lendlease Singapore, which manages Jem in Jurong East and Parkway Parade, said that it aims to fully roll out the required measures by Oct 19.

At Parkway Parade, a 39-year-old bank analyst who wanted to see an optometrist was stopped from entering the mall unless she showed proof of an appointment, which she did not have.

The woman, who wanted to be known only Koh, told TODAY that she has received only a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and is due to take her second jab in two weeks.

She was later allowed into the mall after a staff member from the optical shop showed up to escort her. 

Koh said: “Maybe the staff members aren’t sure what this grace period means.” — TODAY

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