Smaller crowds at migrant worker hangouts on first day of tightened Covid-19 measures

SINGAPORE – Public spaces usually abuzz with the chatter of migrant workers enjoying their off days were quiet on Sunday afternoon (May 16), the first day of stricter Covid-19 measures.

When The Sunday Times visited Little India at around noon, the streets were emptier than usual though most shops remained open for business.

Foreign workers were mostly spotted alone, carrying bags with food items and necessities. Many of them told ST they had been instructed by their employers not to leave their dormitories if possible .

Mr Pandiyan, a construction worker who goes by one name, said his employer had informed him about the rise in community cases here. He was told to avoid meeting his friends in the next few weeks and to limit his time spent outside to an hour.

“I feel sad that I can’t meet my friends (as) there is not much to do in the dorm… but hopefully things will get better,” said the 31-year-old worker from Thumbaipatti, India.

Mr Pandiyan said he kept his trip to Little India brief – picking up curry and other cooking supplies before heading back to his dormitory.

Another construction worker, Mr Sarker Mynul, 41, said the new restrictions were good as they protect people from coronavirus.

“I rather not meet my friends because it’s safer. Though it’s a bit troublesome to take away (our food), it’s not a big problem,” he said.

Businesses in Little India are starting to feel the pinch of the tightened measures, with one restaurant owner fearing his three-month old establishment selling North Indian cuisine – Shiraz Alfresco – might shutter.

“The restaurant was full yesterday but look, it’s completely empty today,” said Mr Manoj Beniwal, 26.

“We’re on the Grab food (app) but the restaurant is still young and not many people know of us yet… I don’t know what is going to happen in this one month,” he added.

At Lakshmi Kuber General Stores, which sells prayer items and necessities, store owner Ms Sangeetha Rai, 54, said only one customer had entered her store as at 1pm.

“Weekends are usually very crowded with over 100 people coming in. Now it’s exactly the same as during the circuit breaker last year… people don’t want to take the risk of going out,” she said.

The scene was livelier at Lucky Plaza, where a constant stream of foreign domestic workers were seen entering the mall at around 2pm .

Five security personnel and police officers were spotted telling people who were waiting around to move along.

Ms Mary Carvan, 30 was at Lucky Plaza to send money back to the Philippines and get her fix of Jollibee fried chicken.

“I usually meet my friends at Botanic gardens and Lucky Plaza, but now it’s too risky, health is more important,” she said.

Ms Carvan added that her employer had advised her to be careful when she’s out and not to spend long hours outside.

Ms Janette Casagep, a foreign domestic worker also from the Philippines, said there were noticeably fewer people in Lucky Plaza when she visited at around 1pm, compared to last Sunday.

“The new rules don’t really affect me, as I usually go out with just one friend,” she said.

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