Photos Singapore coronavirus lockdown
All photos by the writer.

Singapore Under Lockdown: Empty Hawker Centres and Isolated Playgrounds​

I set out to capture my favourite places in Singapore to see what they’ve become under lockdown.
Koh Ewe

About a month ago, one day before Singapore’s “circuit breaker” or quarantine measures were implemented, I took a stroll around my neighbourhood. I saw bars and eateries, whose regular crowds were a permanent fixture in the vicinity, preparing themselves for a new mode of operation to comply with social distancing measures against COVID-19.

One particular image is seared in my memory — a popular bar right below my house, empty, its tables and chairs stacked neatly inside as it prepared to limit services to food deliveries for the foreseeable future.


I was struck by the knowledge that I was witnessing an important moment in history, a picture of how the coronavirus has affected life as we know it.

I didn’t take a photo of the bar then, for fear of appearing insensitive to its imminent shuttering. But I regretted it as soon as I got home, because when else will Singapore ever look like that again?

So, last weekend, I set out to capture my favourite haunts around Singapore to see what they’ve become under the lockdown. Here’s what I saw.


The void deck of my grandmother’s house, which used to be a gathering spot for chatty senior citizens, my grandma included. Seated in a circle, they would fill each other in on the latest neighbourhood gossip and share their grocery hauls from the nearby wet market.


I spent my childhood playing silly games with other children in these areas, running around open spaces or just hanging out.


Hawker centres are open-air food courts with local food stalls, a symbol of Singapore’s culinary heritage. These characteristically Singaporean establishments are often found in neighbourhoods and serve as a hub for social interaction.


One of my favourite things to do is having breakfast with my family in a crowded hawker centre, taking in the rowdy, sweaty atmosphere of bustling mornings. Here’s what I saw when I visited one of my usual hawker centres around dinner time — tables and seats have been cordoned off to prevent people from sitting. While stalls can stay open during the circuit breaker period, patrons can no longer dine in these establishments.


A newly-built playground near my house that has been cordoned off, like other facilities in the park. I wonder if anyone got to play there.


At this park near my house, which I regularly visited to work out or simply take an evening stroll, facilities like this pavilion and exercise equipment have been wrapped with red and white tape to prevent people from using them.


Before the circuit breaker measures were put in place, this park would be filled with children, dog-walkers, and elderly people taking leisurely walks, an intersection of recreational activity for residents in the area.


A local laundromat that looked squeaky clean and strangely desolate.


The neighbourhood centre that I visit every few days to run errands. Beauty parlours, pawn shops, and other services that have been deemed “non-essential” can no longer operate during the circuit breaker period.


An expressway near my house that I had never seen so devoid of vehicles.


Somewhere in Chinatown, with the iconic People's Park Complex in the background. Whenever my foreign friends ask me where they should go in Singapore, my first recommendation is always Chinatown. I’ve always liked how it embraces its kitschiness with unapologetically ostentatious architecture and old-school retail shops, all while tucked in one of the most modern city centres of Singapore.


Festive lights in Chinatown remain lit even though its streets are empty.


As we cruised along the road, I snapped a quick photo of a particularly strange sight — sitting in front of The Cathay, a popular shopping mall, was a balloon dog sculpture that used to greet moviegoers and shoppers but is now left gazing into oblivion.


Clarke Quay is known for being the nightlife district in town, but on the Friday night that I visited the area, the riverside was enveloped in surreal tranquility. Wafting alcohol scents and bass tremors that typically filled the air were noticeably absent, leaving behind colourful lights reflected in still water, and a distant memory of what local nightlife used to be.

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