More organised, but more people

A new queue system put in place yesterday for people to pay their last respects to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew shortened waiting times in the morning, but could not hold back the unceasing crowd by nightfall.

Early birds who began lining up in the morning to get to Parliament House, where Mr Lee is lying in state, did so in 45 minutes. But by 11pm, an official announcement said the wait would take seven hours.

However, such was the sheer volume of numbers that ushers on the ground said the reality was an eight-hour wait. This put the queue time back to what it was the day before, on the first day of public mourning.

The number of visitors over the two days, as of 11pm yesterday, was 147,791.

Yesterday, even those in the "priority" queue - for the elderly with their families, and those with children or special needs - were told by ushers the wait would be at least seven hours.

And as day turned to night, the priority queue began restricting entry for the elderly to those accompanied by only one adult - as at least one family of three found out to their dismay and told The Straits Times about it.

Secretary Lily Wong, 60, like many others, left the priority queue on hearing of the longer delay. "I'm not dressed to go to work tomorrow," she said.

An usher advised people to go to community clubs to pay their respects, or "come back around 3am when the air is more cooling".

However, those in the crowd said the wait was made more pleasant than the day before thanks to better organisation, shelter, clear instructions from ushers and refreshments handed out along the way by well-wishers.

For the first day of the lying-in-state, Wednesday, queues had extended around the city district and waiting times were as long as eight hours. After times to pay respects were extended first to midnight, then to 24 hours, people continued to arrive all night.

But at 7am yesterday, a new system for the queues took effect. State funeral organisers designated the Padang as the sole entrance for the queue, whereas before, haphazard lines caused confusion about where to join the queue.

Yesterday, there were ushers who walked the length of thelines holding signs, directing those aged above 60, the infirm and those pregnant or with children to "keep to the right" for priority lines. While there was a priority line the day before, not many had known about it until news reports surfaced. The ushers shepherded the rest towards the Padang, where the normal queue begun.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had worked through the night to put up barricades and shade tents there. By 6.45am yesterday, barricades marking out clear paths and 102 tents had been set up. Work continued through the afternoon to set up more tents.

Engineer Elvin Foo, 33, who works in the area, said he had intended to join the queue on Wednesday with his colleagues. "The queue was all over the place," he said. "It's much better today, with one place to join the queue."

Mrs Suzie Laing, 57, a real estate agent, said: "Today's queues are more organised."

By 4pm, an unrelenting stream of citizens extended round War Memorial Park and through the City Hall underpass, then filed through the new lines at the Padang, until at last they reached Parliament House. Good Samaritans - companies and individuals alike - made the waiting easier by giving out refreshments and hand-fans. Temasek Holdings loaned out 30,000 umbrellas.

Housewife Joelle Lu, 31, meanwhile, who arrived in the late morning, was grateful for the relatively shorter priority queue that she could enter with her twin sons, aged 18 months. She said: "The line to pay respects to Mr Goh Keng Swee (former Deputy Prime Minister and finance minister who died in 2010) was already a two-hour wait - no doubt Mr Lee's would be longer. I'm glad they announced this queue, so that mothers can still pay their respects to Mr Lee without putting the children through too much stress."

Inside Parliament House, ushers repeatedly urged crowds not to stop, and "to pay your respects as you move". One elderly Indian woman, however, paused to stoop and touch the ground near Mr Lee's casket. With tears running down her cheeks, she then brought her fingertips to her eyes - a move that signifies respect, according to customary Indian practice.

This article was first published on March 27, 2015.
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