Access to parts of Marina Bay area closed by police over crowd safety concerns on New Year's Eve

Osmond Chia
The Straits Times
Jan 1, 2023

As fireworks exploded at midnight over the Esplanade Bridge in the Marina Bay area, welcoming 2023, Mr Leon Lai rose to his feet with his five-month-old daughter in his arms.

Starting a new family was the highlight of 2022 for Mr Lai, 30, and he hopes the new year will be a more peaceful one, with the Covid-19 virus in retreat.

The business owner, who was with his family and cousins, said: “I’m hoping 2023 will be even better, and hopefully Covid-19 won’t be something we need to worry about anymore.”

He was among thousands of revellers crammed along Esplanade Bridge to the Merlion Park, in the Marina Bay area, on Saturday night.

They were there to watch performances at the Float, just before the fireworks display lit up the night sky.

The bridge was closed off to vehicles to allow members of the public to walk about freely.

Mr Howard Tan, 39, took his wife and children - aged seven, eight and 12 - to the Marina Bay area to watch the drone and fireworks displays near the Float.

Mr Tan, who works in the tech industry and mostly worked from home in 2022, said: “I spent a lot of time with my family this year, so it’s something I really appreciate.

“We would usually stay home and watch the New Year festivities on TV. But this year feels special for us to be able to come here, especially after Covid-19.”

Merlion Park had reached its full capacity earlier Saturday evening, prompting the police to close the area temporarily due to concerns over crowd safety. 

Later that evening, access to Jubilee Bridge, Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza and Fullerton Waterfront, which includes Merlion Park, was closed and police advised the public to avoid the areas.

The police, who had expected 500,000 revellers to turn up at the Marina Bay area, had deployed drones to keep tabs on crowd size and movement. The drones had speakers to broadcast sirens and public safety messages, including instructions on what to do in an emergency.

Overcrowding was a concern during the festive period following the Itaewon Halloween crowd crush on Oct 29. About 100,000 revellers had squeezed into the popular nightlife area in Seoul, South Korea, that evening, causing a crush that killed 158 people.

The festivities here, this year, are a stark contrast to New Year’s Eve in 2021 - one without street activities or performances. Community celebrations then were also organised in truncated events across the island, with some held virtually.

While it was packed at Marina Bay, it was quieter at Orchard Road, with people out for night strolls.

Barricades were set up around the stairs by the walkway of Wisma Atria to prevent revellers from crowding there while watching buskers perform. 

Mr Jayden Chong, 25, who was with his parents and girlfriend, said he was surprised by the moderate crowd after his family decided to avoid the Marina Bay area.

The financial adviser said: “Having a nice walk with the family and a simple night out is good enough for us.”

He remembers 2022 as the year things returned to normal, with the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and having the freedom to mingle with friends and travel.

He is looking forward to 2023, as he plans to propose to his girlfriend after dating for two years. 

Madam He Ya Jian, 61, said Orchard Road was far less crowded than on Christmas Eve. She could easily find a seat to watch the performances at a pop-up carnival outside Ngee Ann City on Saturday night.

She said 2022 was one to forget when the war in Ukraine broke out. 

The cleaner, who works in an office in Orchard, said in Mandarin: “A lot of prices have gone up and it has been tough, since I live alone. 

“Most things like coffee and chicken rice are much more expensive. It’s been a test of how to budget and control my expenses. I’m hoping 2023 will be better.”

The Straits Times

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