Pek Kio Market and Food Centre reopened on Friday (May 27) following a two-day closure for cleaning and disinfection, after more than 180 cases of gastroenteritis were reported in the Owen Road area.
However, stall owners told Channel NewsAsia they expect business to be slow for the coming week.
The owner of roast meat stall Tan Kee's Roasted, Mr Marcus Tan, said that he usually serves at least 40 to 50 customers in the morning, but only had about 20 on Friday morning. However, he was optimistic that customers would return in a few days.
Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar Melvin Yong, who was at the food centre to speak to stall owners and residents, also observed that the crowd was smaller than usual. Noting the worries of stall owners, he stressed that the closure of the market for cleaning was "really a precautionary measure". The findings of the authorities have not indicated any particular stall in the market as a source of the gastric flu cases, he added.
144 CASES VERIFIED TO BE LINKED TO OUTBREAK SO FAR: AUTHORITIES
In a joint statement on Friday, the National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of Health (MOH), Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, said investigations into the gastroenteritis outbreak in the area were ongoing and the exact mechanics of the transmission had yet to be determined.
However, 144 cases had been verified to be linked to the outbreak so far. Of these, 17 patients have been admitted to hospital with seven since discharged and the rest in stable condition, the authorities said.
Tests on food, water and environmental samples collected from the food outlets did not show any evidence of rotavirus, they added.
The authorities said that while some members of the public have speculated that pigeons or rats could have contributed to the outbreak, such instances are rare.
Literature points to the virus being transmitted between people through the faecal-oral route, the agencies said. This could be through consuming contaminated food or drink; touching contaminated surfaces before touching the mouth; or having direct contact with another ill person, the authorities explained.
"MOH and NEA would like to remind members of the public to take the necessary precautions, such as washing or sanitizing their hands regularly, and using service utensils when sharing food. Persons with gastroenteritis are reminded to practise good hygiene to minimise the risk of spread to other persons," they said.
Nonetheless, the agencies noted that pigeons and rats are "unwelcome pests" and that the town council has been getting a pest control operator to identify and treat potential rat burrows on a fortnightly basis.
"Moving forward they will step up pest control measures and conduct weekly treatments as a precautionary measure," they added. The town council is also putting up metal spikes near the roof to discourage pigeons from roosting.
During the clean-up of the food centre, NEA officers were on site to facilitate and advise stallholders, and NEA centrally procured and provided stallholders with chlorine-based, food-grade disinfectants on a once-off basis in view of the tight timeline for the closure, they said, adding that NEA will continue to place the centre under close surveillance after it reopens, to ensure that stallholders observe proper hygiene practices.
RENT, CONSERVANCY CHARGES WAIVED TO ASSIST STALL OWNERS
Mr Yong said that as a form of assistance to stall owners, the town council will waive the service and conservancy charges for stall owners for May. Those that have already paid their May fees will have their charges for June written off.
Depending on the size and nature of a stall, owners pay between S$73 and S$173 each month for every 10sqm of the area of the stall or part thereof. The owners were notified of the waiver of this month's charges on Wednesday, Mr Yong said.
After feedback from stallholders and the grassroots adviser, NEA will also provide stallholders with two weeks of remission on their stall rentals from Wednesday, "on an exceptional basis in view of the short notice for the closure on public health grounds". Stallholders will receive letters notifying them of the remission, it said.
Interest groups from the People's Association, who perform at the food centre every last Saturday of the month, have also brought forward their performance to coincide with the food centre’s reopening to help attract more customers.