SINGAPORE - Some shopping malls are struggling to comply with fire safety rules as they abide by Covid-19 safe management measures.
A few have resorted to padlocking their entrance and exit points to conform with occupancy limits imposed by the authorities.
In response to The Straits Times' queries, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said that as of Aug 31, 16 out of the 200 malls it inspected had breached fire safety requirements by padlocking a few doors.
The malls were issued warnings, fined $300, or both, and they have since rectified the situation.
One of the malls found to have flouted fire safety rules was People's Park Centre, said the SCDF, though it declined to name the other 15 malls.
The Straits Times team visited the mall last Thursday (Sept 3) and found all its exits unlocked, with removable barricades placed in front of them.
Signs were placed on the barricades indicating that these were removable in the case of an emergency evacuation.
But an issue was noted on the building's third storey, where patrons were seen skirting round these barriers to access the doors for entry to and exit from the mall.
ST found that the doorway opened into a corridor of shops accessible only from the mall's exterior.
The corridor is linked to an overhead bridge connecting People's Park Centre to Chinatown Point.
Owners of shops along that row whom ST spoke to said they have lost customers since the entry restrictions were imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, with footfall reduced to close to zero.
Mr Izat Norozad, 65, who owns Muslim eatery Warung Aneka Rasa, said the lunchtime crowd had dissipated since the circuit breaker period, and regulars no longer frequent the eatery as much because it is harder to get to now.
Customers and shopkeepers can access the row of shops only via a flight of stairs located near a side entrance of the building.
"Many of my customers are older folks and climbing three flights of stairs is too tiring, so they prefer to dine at eateries located on the lower levels instead," said Mr Izat. He added that business is now 30 per cent of what it used to be.
Another shop owner who wanted to be known only as Mr Tang, whose shop is inside the mall but right next to the exit, said he has been frequenting food courts inside the mall instead of the eateries along that row after the doors were locked.
"On the one hand, keeping the door locked has impacted all these businesses and it is a hazard to fire safety, but leaving it unlocked and unmanned could pose a hazard to public health, especially if there are Covid-19 cases who could enter and leave the mall untraced," said the 70-year-old.
ST has contacted the mall's management for comment.
The president of the Association of Strata Managers, Mr Chan Kok Hong, said many malls have blocked their entrances, as it would require a lot more security, manpower and equipment to ensure temperature checking and SafeEntry requirements are carried out at every entrance.
He added that strata malls have been carrying out the same practices as big malls and using removable barricades.
Three other malls ST visited in the vicinity appeared to be complying with fire safety rules. Malls such as Funan and Raffles City Shopping Centre have locked sliding doors, which can be automatically released when the fire alarm is activated.
A spokesman for Capitaland malls said that this is the case in all its 19 malls, and that it abides by fire safety regulations at all times.
Popular mall Nex has five out of its 28 entrances operational, each with controlled access to comply with safe distancing measures.
Its spokesman said: "Remaining access points which are not locked during mall operating hours are barricaded with lightweight barricades which can be easily pushed aside, and doors with electromagnetic locks will be auto-released during emergencies."
"The SCDF enforcement team inspected the mall on Aug 7 and is satisfied with our fire safety compliance measures," he added.
A spokesman for Frasers Property Retail said that all 14 of its malls have implemented fire safety measures and comply with guidelines set out by the SCDF.
Curbing the spread of Covid-19
Malls, supermarkets and standalone stores are required to comply with safe management measures in the light of Covid-19.
Listed in a joint circular by Enterprise Singapore, the Housing Board, Singapore Tourism Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority and with effect from June 19, these measures include:
All malls and standalone stores larger than 930 sq m (gross floor area) must comply with an occupancy limit of one person per 10 sq m of the gross floor area.
Stores are expected to demarcate queue lines for customers and ensure adherence to the 1m spacing rule.
CONTACT TRACING AND HEALTH CHECKS
All malls, supermarkets, stores providing beauty services, and large retail stores with more than 930 sq m of gross floor area have to implement SafeEntry for customers to facilitate information collection when contact tracing is required.
They must also conduct temperature screening and check for visible symptoms on customers who turn up at their entrances, and turn away those appearing unwell.
To ensure cleanliness and hygiene, product testers and samples must be removed, and common spaces such as counters and display shelves must be frequently cleaned and disinfected.
Clear signs must be placed to remind customers of safe management measures.
Government agencies will conduct inspections to ensure proper implementation of the safe management measures.
Under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, first-time offenders who flout the rules can face a fine of up to $10,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both.
Fire safety rules for buildings
Owners and managers of buildings must ensure that the buildings comply with fire safety requirements, and people can be quickly and safely evacuated during a fire emergency, even with Covid-19 safe management measures in place, said the SCDF.
Fire safety measures include:
NO LOCKING OR CHAINING UP OF EXITS
Buildings which have restricted access to entry and exit points must have doors that can be automatically unlocked to facilitate evacuation once the fire alarm system is triggered.
If physical barricades are used to prevent access to entry and exit points, they must be easily removable.
Buildings must have signs placed at the exits clearly informing people that barriers can be removed during a fire emergency.
MAKING PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENTS AS NEEDED
In the event of a fire, an immediate broadcast over the building's public announcement system must be made to inform people that all exit doors can be used for evacuation.
These will be the additional duties required of the fire safety managers appointed for each mall, according to an SCDF circular dated Aug 28 that was seen by ST.
It added that the notice takes effect immediately, and that the SCDF will step up enforcement checks in buildings to ensure compliance with these measures.
Building owners or occupiers should also provide fire safety managers with the facilities, equipment and information necessary to discharge their duties.
Contravening the measures can lead to penalties, which include a fine of up to $10,000 or a jail term of up to six months, or both.