Crowds throng malls in final weekend before Christmas

Some people admit to unease over lack of safe distancing as malls had more people than they expected

Malls in Singapore were teeming with pre-pandemic crowd sizes in the final weekend before Christmas as shoppers sought last-minute presents in a festive year-end mood.

This was despite the Government urging caution in the lead-up to phase three of Singapore's reopening on Dec 28, which will allow larger gatherings of up to eight and expanded capacity limits at public places.

The Straits Times spoke to several patrons at shopping centres around the island, who admitted to unease over the lack of safe distancing amid crowds larger than they had expected.

"It's very busy in the mall, it's scary to see people going out like there's (no pandemic)," said Mr Muhammad Faiz, 23, at Bugis Junction. He usually heads out to town once a month.

"It seems like people are behaving as if we are already in phase three," said housewife Aisyah Daman, 30.

The Government has warned against complacency during the festive season, with Education Minister Lawrence Wong noting last week that the concern that "there will be groups of people who let their guard down".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also urged people not to imagine "that the problem has disappeared".

On Saturday afternoon, even as it was revealed that 13 people on stay-home notice at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel might have been infected, malls in the area were packed.

At Ion Orchard, queues of about 20 formed outside retailers JD Sports and Muji. Shoppers thronged Daiso with baskets full of Christmas goods.

Ms Gwee, 33, a healthcare professional who declined to give her first name, changed her mind on stepping into the store.

"I was turned off by the number of people," she said. "It was so crowded it felt like the air-con wasn't on."

Crowds were also seen at 313@somerset but they had little effect on a 29-year-old.

"There are so many reasons to be out - sales, the festive mood, meeting friends," she said. "I'm not worried… And we are going to phase three soon."

At Bugis, with retail staff saying they had seen a rise in footfall and sales over the past two weekends, it was difficult for shoppers to stay 1m apart in some spots, though most seemed mindful of the need to do so.

Outside Toys 'R' Us at VivoCity, Ms Asikin Said, 35, told ST she typically shops online but with deliveries affected by the holiday season, she decided to take her three-year-old son out to brave the crowds.

Even with the crowd spread out across the mall, she said she had had enough.

"It's quite bad. We're going home right after this."

Another shopper, at Bugis with her family acknowledged she did not feel 100 per cent safe.

"But... we are willing to take the risk, as long as we ensure that we practise good hygiene and wear our masks properly. I'm also making sure my 10-month-old daughter doesn't touch things."

The Government said it will continue to deploy safe distancing ambassadors and work with retailers to better manage crowds.