SINGAPORE: Crowds were thin at Jem and Westgate on Sunday (Jun 6), when the malls reopened for business after a two-week closure.
The malls had been closed since May 23 to contain “likely ongoing transmission” of COVID-19 among visitors, the Health Ministry said earlier. As of Jun 5, 63 cases have been linked to the Jem and Westgate cluster.
Responding to CNA’s queries, both malls said deep cleaning and disinfection works were completed prior to the reopening.
CapitaLand, which operates Westgate, said it has also ramped up its cleaning protocols and precautionary measures. This includes placing disinfection floor mats at key entrances and coating high contact areas with an anti-microbial disinfectant.
At the air-conditioned section of Westgate, stagnant air will be “purged” before the mall opens each day, CapitaLand said. All air dampers in the building are also fully open to improve air intake for the mall’s kitchens and toilets.
It is also using ultraviolet technology to kill germs in its central air supply system and is testing ultraviolet air disinfectant devices in some enclosed areas.
When CNA visited the malls at around 11.30am, the majority of the shops were empty. Most visitors were in the supermarkets or food outlets.
The low footfall did not come as a surprise to retailers CNA spoke to, who had already been hit hard by the pandemic as well as tightened COVID-19 measures introduced last month.
“Even before the closure, we had no customers,” said Mr Alex Chen, a Westgate tenant.
The general manager of shoe shop iBeryl said sales across his five outlets have been dismal since the country entered Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) in May. On some days, his shops take in less than S$100 each.
“To be honest, the two-week closure actually brought some relief because I didn’t have to worry about rent since we were given rental waivers,” he said.
“Now that we’re open again, I have to worry about poor business.”
CSK Laser Aesthetic Clinics, which has an outlet at Westgate, is considering taking drastic cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.
“We were already thinking about whether we should carry on when our lease at Westgate ends (around end-2022) because the situation has been very discouraging,” said the group’s medical director Shiau Ee Leng.
“It feels like we’re taking so much risks, and there’s always this uncertainty of a lockdown which would force us to close,” she said.
“We are actually looking at letting go of some staff throughout the group. Because if this is just going to be the norm, where every few months we’re forced to close down, then it’s very hard to operate business … it’s not consistent,” she added.
Despite the grim situation, some retailers are hoping to lure shoppers back with discounts and personalised shopping services.
Ms Lena Ong, who runs a kiosk selling socks at Jem, said she is offering a 10 per cent discount on her items.
“It’s giving an incentive to our regular customers to buy slightly more than what they usually buy and also hopefully, attract new customers,” she said. “It could also help to clear our stock and get things moving again.”
Footwear brand Happy Walker, which specialises in orthopaedic shoes for the elderly and patients with diabetes, said it has reached out to customers to inform them about ongoing promotions as well as their reopening at Jem.
“We have quite a few regulars and most of our customers are seniors so they may not know that the malls have reopened,” said the company’s director Teo Shu Tong.
“Hopefully, they will come back because we offer personalised services, which can’t be done online,” he said.