SINGAPORE: Businesses in essential services, such as healthcare, transport, logistics and food and beverage (F&B), will continue operations when the enhanced safe distancing measures requiring most workplaces to be shut kick in next Tuesday (Apr 7).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the ramped up measures on Friday in his third address to the nation on the COVID-19 issue, describing them as a “circuit breaker” to curb the spread of the virus here.

While most workplaces will have to be shut, those in essential services such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services, will remain open.

Economic sectors that are strategic or form part of a global supply chain will also not be impacted by the new measures, Mr Lee said.

READ: COVID-19: Singapore makes ‘decisive move’ to close most workplaces and impose full home-based learning for schools, says PM Lee

READ: Most workplaces to close for one month from Apr 7 to curb spread of COVID-19

Elaborating during a press conference, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said this new measure is aimed at minimising transmission at workplaces and reducing the need for people to commute.

“I want to emphasise that this is not about business closure. This is about closing premises for the duration in order for us to adopt the enhanced safe distancing measures,” he said at the press conference organised by the multi-ministry task force tackling the outbreak here.

“This distinction is important because many businesses will still be able to operate,” the minister added.

Essential services that will continue to operate include:

– Healthcare and social services

– Food-related services

– Energy

– Water, waste management and environmental services

– Transportation, storage and logistics services

– Information and communication services

– Security operations

– Facilities management and critical public infrastructure

– Manufacturing activities essential for Singapore’s security, sustenance and safety

– Banking and financial services

A number of other services, including hardware stores for repairs and supplies, as well as vehicle recovery, will also be allowed to continue operations, Mr Chan told reporters.

However, these business must operate with only “core essential staff” and with the strict safe distancing measures in place, he said.

Related supply chains that keep essential services functioning will also be allowed to stay open.

READ: 65 new COVID-19 infections in Singapore, including 17 unlinked cases

READ: Government will no longer discourage people from wearing face masks, reusable masks to be distributed

In the same vein, businesses that are critical for global supply chains will also get the green light to continue operations. These include those involved in the manufacturing of semiconductors, bio-pharmaceutical and petrochemicals, as well as their associated supply chains.

Construction firms that require some time to wind down operations safely will also be given a “short grace period to do so over the next few days”, Mr Chan said.

Meanwhile, businesses that are able to continue operations with employees working from home should continue to do so, he added.

The minister said that government agencies will “proactively” inform businesses that provide essential services.

READ: ‘Right time’ to close schools now, says Education Minister Ong Ye Kung

READ: ‘Very worrying trends’ meant that Singapore could not afford to wait any longer before making ‘pre-emptive’ move: Lawrence Wong

For others that require clarification and assistance, they can refer to the website – covid.gobusiness.gov.sg – and a newly set-up hotline 6898 1800. The hotline will run from 8pm on Friday until midnight, and resume operations from 8am on Saturday. 

NO DINE-IN AT F&B OUTLETS

All supermarkets, wet markets, hawker centres and F&B establishments will also remain open, said Mr Chan during the press conference.

But dining in will no longer be allowed, and F&B outlets will only offer take-away and deliveries.

Mr Chan called on Singaporeans to bring their own containers “when possible” when ordering takeaways, to help F&B operators conserve their packaging materials and be more environmentally-friendly.

The minister also said there is “no need” for people to stock up on essential items as this will “cause disruption to (the country’s) logistics system”.

READ: FairPrice stores will remain open ‘come what may’, no need to rush and buy supplies: CEO

“Our supply lines and supply chains are intact at this moment and will continue to function smoothly,” he said.

“Please purchase responsibly and consider those (who are) more vulnerable among us.”

FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS WILL KEEP RUNNING

In a separate press release on Friday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said all financial institutions will continue to operate, although with reduced staff on their premises given the latest advisory on telecommuting. 

“Banking services will continue to be available through online channels, ATMs and bank branches,” said MAS.

“Insurance, broking, custody, asset management, and financial advisory services will also continue to be available.”

Banks will maintain adequate cash in ATMs and there is no need for people to withdraw more cash than their normal needs, the central bank added in its press release, while encouraging members of the public to use PayNow, FAST, Interbank GIRO, as well as debit/credit cards for electronic payments.

MAS also urged people to tap online channels such as Internet banking or customer service portals for their transactions, and minimise going to the branches or premises of financial institutions.

MORE SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES 

“We understand that businesses and workers are under stress,” said Mr Chan at the press conference, noting that additional support will be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when Parliament sits next Monday.

This could include larger wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Scheme and a possible suspension of foreign worker levies, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at the same press conference.

“We will also consider if employers need temporary help to ensure they have the essential workforce to restart,” she said.

READ: PM Lee on COVID-19 situation: At a glance

READ: In full: PM Lee’s address on enhanced measures to deal with COVID-19 situation in Singapore

Singapore Business Federation’s (SBF) chief executive Ho Meng Kit said that the enhanced safe distancing measures, though “a necessity”, will result in disruption and inconvenience to businesses and workers.

“There will be more economic pain for businesses,” he said in a statement to the media, adding that he is “heartened” to learn that additional relief measures will be announced.

SBF will also launch a helpline from next Monday to “serve as an additional avenue for companies to get help”. Businesses can dial the SBF helpline at 6701 1138 or email [email protected] 

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