Coronavirus pandemic

Holland Village eatery says crowds gathered outside were not its customers

Crowds that gathered to see the fights at Holland Village on the first night of phase two of Singapore's reopening were not customers, said the general manager of restaurant British Indian Curry Hut, which was ordered to close for not ensuring safe distancing.

Images and videos circulated on social media at the weekend show scenes of overcrowding at the restaurant along Lorong Mambong after two fights broke out last Friday night.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said the restaurant had failed to ensure that safe management practices were adhered to and ordered it to close on Saturday.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, the restaurant's general manager Khader Basha Ghouse Basha, 38, said the fights broke out around 8pm and 9.30pm on Friday, during which crowds gathered in front of his and other restaurants in the vicinity.

"Unfortunately, my customers moved their chairs and tables to avoid the spillover from the fights, and once the situation was over, our customers stayed put in their seats," he said, leading to safe distancing rules not being observed.

He added: "The two fights did not start at our restaurant and, as far as I am aware, my customers were not involved in the altercations...

"The crowd that had gathered in front of the restaurant was mistaken for my customers, which in turn made it seem like we had failed to maintain safe social distancing."

A photo circulating on social media shows groups of people sitting in the restaurant's outdoor seating area packed closely together, as well as crowds standing on the road outside the restaurant.

Mr Basha said that for the eatery's phase two reopening on Friday, it had implemented reserved dining and restricted walk-in diners, and ensured "compliance with the guidance given to us by the URA".

He said that before Covid-19, the restaurant, which opened in 2014, had an indoor capacity of 80, with seating for another 25 to 30 outdoors. With safe distancing measures in place, the capacity is now 45 indoors, and 15 to 18 outdoors.

The eatery will be allowed to do takeaways this week and open for dine-in from next Monday, "provided it has shown that it is able to implement safe management measures for its customers", said URA.

The police said three people have been arrested for the fights on Friday night: A 26-year-old man who reeked of alcohol and was causing annoyance to the public at 21 Lorong Mambong, and two 22-year-old Singaporean men for their suspected involvement in a case of affray at the same location.

Following the incidents, Lorong Mambong, which is usually closed to traffic every evening, is now open, to prevent people from gathering on the street.

Outdoor dining areas for all restaurants along the stretch - which account for a large chunk of takings - have been removed to allow pedestrians to walk safely on the pavement.

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said patrols of hot spots, including nightspots, have also been stepped up, and "action will be taken against individuals and premise operators who breach safe distancing measures".

"At times, a higher number of safe distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers may be deployed to areas with high traffic to respond to public feedback about non-compliance with safe distancing measures or on weekends, when visitorship may be higher," it added.

Business operators at other popular dining and nightlife destinations in Singapore are not taking any chances.

While regular road closures at other car-free zones such as Circular Road in Boat Quay and Bussorah Street in Kampong Glam have been suspended since March 27 - as part of measures to minimise the risk of further spread of Covid-19 - areas along the Singapore River have reopened for business.

Ms Michelle Koh, executive director of Singapore River One, which manages the Singapore River precinct, including Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay, said: "We have sent safe management reminders and advisories to our stakeholders to adhere strictly to prevailing guidelines on safe distancing. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and work collaboratively with our stakeholders to ensure the safety and health of their staff and patrons."

Around 70 per cent of businesses in the Singapore River precinct have been allowed to reopen since last Friday.

Ms Koh said of the first weekend of reopening: "The turnout was encouraging but definitely lower than pre-Covid-19... We believe most people are still cautious and taking preventive measures to avoid public areas."