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Toh Wen Li
The Straits Times
May 17, 2020
Some restaurants at Robertson Quay have been barred from selling alcohol for takeaway, after people were found socialising and flouting safe distancing measures at the riverside dining enclave.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told The Straits Times on Sunday (May 17) that these restaurants had been selling takeaway alcohol to patrons, “which had contributed to more individuals gathering around these premises”.
“To prevent such gatherings from taking place, we have issued a written direction to these restaurants to cease the sale of takeaway alcohol with immediate effect,” said an URA spokesman.
“Any contravention of such directions is an offence and we will not hesitate to take such parties to task.”
The directive comes a day after a Facebook post showing several photos of people failing to stay at least 1m from one another in the waterfront neighbourhood went viral, having been shared more than 1,700 times since Saturday (May 16) evening.
Most of the people pictured were not wearing masks, while some had their masks lowered as they spoke to one another.
The photos, taken by a recruitment manager in her 40s who wished to be known only as Ms Tan, were later shared on Facebook by a friend who goes by the handle Lectress Pat.
Ms Tan, who was exercising in the area, told The Straits Times she took the photos around 6.30pm on Saturday, after catching sight of the "alarming" crowds near the stretch of F&B outlets from Robertson Bridge to Alkaff Bridge.
People were sitting on the steps drinking and smoking, she said, and restaurants were selling beer in takeaway cups.
Netizens, noting that the chic riverside area tends to draw an expat crowd, have been quick to suggest that there might be "double standards" at play. Others called the people out on their behaviour, saying they were "selfish" and disrespectful of front-line workers.
Tap bar, which has an outlet in Robertson Quay, said in a Facebook post on Sunday that the URA had told them there would be a "total ban on the sale of alcohol, whether takeaway or delivery, by all the restaurants along the Robertson Quay area". It also noted in a comment that the police had been called in the night before to disperse a group of people who were smoking.
In an update later in the afternoon, however, it said that the authorities would allow deliveries from their Robertson Quay outlet.
URA said it was aware of online posts of people congregating around restaurants in Robertson Quay, and of "rumours of a ban on the sale of alcohol in the area".
The URA said it has been doing regular patrols in areas such as the Central Business District, Singapore River – which includes Robertson Quay – and conservation districts.
While it found the majority of operators and individuals compliant with circuit breaker measures, nearly 30 fines and five closure orders have been issued in the past month to individuals and business operators, said the spokesman.
Tap bar said that while its logo and promotional board were caught in one of Ms Tan's photos, it clarified that the table in the picture - which had beer cups on it - did not belong to them. The bar did not reply to netizens' queries on whether it had sold the beer that was being consumed.
All these Facebook posts by Tap have since been removed.
Tiong Bahru resident Joanna Fong, 36, who happened to be cycling in the area at around 6.30pm on Saturday, told The Straits Times: "It was like a square in Europe in summer. Everyone was drinking with kids and families all sitting together."
“I was so angry... It’s irresponsible," said the marketing manager at SPH radio.
She added that the crowds in the Robertson Quay area are a regular occurrence nearly every day, and “it’s like a street festival... without the music.”
Ms Tan, who took the photos, added: "I didn't expect it to be so crowded, with no awareness of social distancing... To recover from this pandemic will really take everyone's effort. Every individual has to be conscious about the effort, because we are just two weeks from June 1, when this 'lockdown' is supposed to be over."
Singapore has been in circuit breaker mode since last month, when tighter social distancing measures came into force to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The measures will be eased gradually after June 1.
People have been urged to stay at home, only venture out for essential activities, and limit their social contact to members of the same household. It is compulsory to wear a mask in public, unless one is engaging in strenuous exercise, and people must maintain a distance of at least 1m from one another. Social gatherings are also banned.
Those who fail to comply with the rules will be fined $300 if they are first-time offenders. Repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court for egregious cases.
The URA on Sunday urged everyone to adhere to safe distancing measures and minimise trips out of their homes, and wear masks properly before and after strenuous exercise.
"We will not hesitate to take further enforcement action against business operators if we find other infringements of safe distancing measures," said its spokesman.
"Similarly, individuals found to be in breach of safe distancing measures will also be fined."