The imposition of “circuit-breaker” measures in Singapore have led to the suspension of activities at most workplaces and public gathering premises, schools have switched to full home-based learning and safe-distancing measures were heightened.
The suspension took effect beginning from 7 April until 4 May, but Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said this may be extended further if the COVID-19 situation does not improve over the next month.
While the economy and businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, the lower incomes urban poor are being hit hardest, the Globe reported on 8 April.
According to the assistant director of research and programme development at Beyond Social Services, Stephanie Chok, the poor community in Singapore are among the most vulnerable because they tend to have “precarious jobs, with few safety nets and insufficient wage and labour protection”.
“We need to think about the fact that we are exposing the lowest paid workers to the greatest risk of in-person contact of the virus,” Ms Chok said.
The Globe reported that the charity organization’s COVID-19 Family Assistance Fund has raised nearly $350,000 and it will be disbursed to needy families within two weeks of applying.
However, Ms Chok noted there is a need to ensure wage and labour protections.
“Efforts should also be made to improve (the working poor’s) wages and working conditions, and ensure some level of job security. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in a similar situation when another crisis hits,” she said.
Low wage workers take on high-risk jobs amid the outbreak
One resident at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4, Nurhidayah Binte Abdul Aziz, told the Globe that her husband who works as a part-time deliveryman had to take on high-risk jobs like delivering groceries to quarantined individuals’ houses because his salary was reduced from $980 a month to $420 recently.
“We’re scared for his safety, but we have no choice. We need the money to survive,” she noted. “I just tell him to take care of himself.”
She claimed they do not have enough financial resources to support their three children, who are all aged below 10, and another child due in September. Despite her efforts to save money, the family still struggles with the cost of prenatal check-ups, milk powder, and the increasing price of onions and garlic amid the outbreak.
Another resident who lives in a two-room rental flat in Jalan Tenteram, Siti Nazariah who works as a part-time cleaner was told to only work on alternate days amid the outbreak, which caused her salary to be reduced.
Her family’s income was further affected when her husband, who works as a parcel deliveryman also has his salary cut from $630 to $245 per month.
In the Globe article, it was highlighted that Mrs Siti’s family sought financial supports from the local school and mosque.
Home-based learning, social distancing are another challenge for poor families
Meanwhile, Beyond Social Services’s deputy executive director Ranganayaki Thangavelu noted that schools moving to full home-based learning are also another challenge as poor families may not have access to stable Wi-Fi and electronic devices.
Thus, the organization is working on to set up dedicated Wi-Fi zones in the Ang Mo Kio Avenue to ensure that the children there will be able to attend home-based learning classes.
He further noted that social distancing is also another challenge for poor families.
“People don’t have much space to even sleep, so having dedicated toilets, or keeping even one metre apart is out of the question,” said Mr Ranganayaki.
Food from the Heart faced challenges to provide food to the needy amid the outbreak
On the other hand, local non-profit Food from the Heart has lost more than $80,500 in corporate donations since the beginning of the outbreak in Singapore.
According to the chief executive of Food from the Heart, Sim Bee Hia, the organization works with public schools, family service centres, senior activity centres and grassroots organisations to provide food assistance. About 900 people volunteer with the organization every month, to check, sort and pack 7,500 food donations into individual packs.
She noted that 90% of its volunteers were “wiped out” two weeks after the country raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) to Orange in February. The organization then resorted to social media to call for help from the public as they scrambled to pack 2,000 food packs.
Ms Sim, however, seems committed with her duty of being a community “connector” as she sketched out the organization’s crisis plan to ensure food is being distributed to the needy.
The plan includes weekly cleaning and segregated work zones to lessen interaction between staff and the volunteers. It also learned to operate based on a new decentralized model where food supplies are sent straight to partner centres in bulk. If a volunteer or staff member being infected with the virus, another staff will take turns to work from home as a “back up”.
“We’re trying to go on life as normal, in these abnormal times. We have to keep it going, to get the food to the people,” Ms Sim added.
Singapore government imposed “circuit-breaker” measures to curb local spread of the virus
Earlier on 3 April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his televised address on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore announced that the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19 has imposed “significantly stricter measures” to curb the local transmission of the virus.
The enhanced measures, Mr Lee said, will act as a “circuit-breaker” that will help “reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring” and “should also help to gradually bring our numbers down”.
“This circuit breaker will apply for one month, in the first instance,” Mr Lee noted.
Following that, workplaces islandwide except those of essential services and key sectors were closed starting on Tuesday (7 April). The Ministry of Education (MOE) also works with schools and higher learning institutions to roll out full home-based learning starting Wednesday (8 April).
The Government also tightened its restrictions on the people’s movements and gatherings.
“People should also only leave their homes to carry out essential activities such as work for those in essential services and key economic sectors, buying groceries at markets, to take away food from restaurants and hawker centres, or “to exercise in the neighbourhood park, keeping a safe distance from others”, Mr Lee stressed.
Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on 7 April that it may be extended beyond 4 May if the COVID-19 situation does not improve over the next month.