4 Yishun hawkers down with dengue

PHOTO: 4 Yishun hawkers down with dengue

SINGAPORE - In one month, four hawkers at a coffee shop in Yishun were floored by dengue.

Customers there know the area has been designated a dengue hot spot, and that some of the stallholders fell ill with the disease.

But they'd still risk it because the hawker centre is conveniently located.

Hawker Rahimah Bakar now burns spiral-shaped mosquito coils at the back of her food stall every day.

She has decided not to take any chances after her twin sister Rahmah, 41, was hit with dengue last month.

Madam Rahmah was sick for over a week with high fever, body pain and rashes.

She said: "I went to the doctor twice, and he tested me positive for dengue on the second trip because my symptoms started to show only days later."

The two have been operating their Malay food stall since January.

So far, four hawkers at Soon Hong Eating House at Yishun Industrial Street 1 have been diagnosed with dengue.

It is near the construction site of an industrial development and opposite YS-ONE, a seven-storey industrial complex.

Madam Rahmah was the third person to be affected in the coffee shop.

Yishun Industrial Street 1 and Street 23 have been flagged by the National Environment Agency (NEA) as high-risk areas for dengue.

With 91 cases as of Wednesday, it has become the second most-affected cluster in Singapore.

A dengue cluster is formed when two or more dengue cases occur within 14 days and the homes of the dengue victims are within 150m.

NEA has found 18 major breeding habitats in the construction sites in the area, citing concrete puddles as the source of mosquito larvae. Business at the Bakar sisters' food stall was affected for five days.

As Madam Rahmah is the main cook who takes care of the lunch menu, her sister had no choice but to close the stall at 11.30am after serving breakfast for three days.

The shutters stayed down for the other two days.

She said the losses added up to a few hundred dollars as they typically close shop at 6pm.

Said Madam Rahimah: "We had so many customers coming up to ask why we closed so early. But I didn't want to say it was because of dengue, if not it'll scare them away."

Her neighbours who run a fish soup stall were also afflicted with the virus and resumed business just three days ago.

The couple who declined to be named, said they were both sick for about 10 days.

Hit hard

Having been in the business for the last 10 years, the man said coming down with dengue had really hit them hard.

"If I were to get it a second time, I don't think my business can survive. I really can't afford any more losses," he said, speaking in Mandarin.

He cared for his wife when she first fell sick - the second in the coffee shop - before he, too, was hit with dengue.

Scarred from their dengue encounter, they are more cautious than ever.

They have stocked up on a variety of mosquito repellents, from spray cans to army gel repellent and mosquito coils.

While speaking to The New Paper, he expressed his anxiety about the dengue threat by coating his legs with another layer of mosquito repellent.

But customers are still flocking to the coffee shop, fully aware the area is a dengue hot spot.

Customer Patrick Pereira, 53, who frequents the coffee shop up to four times a week, said he is not afraid.

The security officer, who lives in Yishun, said: "Why should I stop coming here to eat? I'll leave it to God. If it's meant to happen, it will."

Another customer, Mr Xu Mingzhi, 44, a Chinese national who works as a welding supervisor in the YS-ONE complex, was diagnosed with dengue on Monday.

"I've been sick for the past five days, but now my appetite's back.

"It's not like I can avoid this area. I work and eat here. Life still goes on," Mr Xu said.

The first in the coffee shop to be hit with dengue was a stallholder in his 50s, who gave his name only as Mr Lim.

His mixed rice and vegetable stall had to be closed for the eight days he was sick, and losses incurred were in the thousands.

"No choice, I couldn't possibly have continued with business when I was down with fever," he said, speaking in Mandarin.

"There's nothing to be scared about. As an adult, I'm not so worried about falling ill because I know how to take care of myself. The ones who get it worse are children as their immune system is not as strong."

Mr Lim emphasised cleanliness as the best way to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes.

"It all boils down to getting everyone's cooperation in keeping our coffee shop clean and making sure water isn't stored in any containers or pots."

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