The Multi-Ministry Taskforce has announced on Tuesday (19 May) its decision to exit the circuit breaker when it ends on 1 June, pointing to the significant decline in new community cases and how the situation at migrant worker dormitories have stabilised.
The taskforce states that it expects a rise in new community cases as people resume activities and interactions post-circuit breaker, however it emphasised the ability to detect and contain these cases quickly and prevent the formation of large clusters is more critical.
Explaining how things will proceed after the circuit breaker ends, the taskforce said that they are taking a controlled approach over three phases. Phase One, which starts on 2 June, will see the re-opening of certain economic activities that do not pose a high risk of transmission.
Other social, economic and entertainment activities deemed high risk will remain closed, including dining in at restaurants.
This announcement, however, did not go down well with restaurant owners, many of whom are already struggling to stay afloat.
Speaking to Today Online, the owner of Keng Eng Kee seafood restaurant next to the Alexandra Village Food Centre said that his earnings have plummeted by at least 50 percent since the circuit breaker temporarily halted his business activities on 7 April. This is despite still offering delivery and takeaway options.
The owner, Mr Paul Liew, told Today on Wednesday (20 May), “If the situation persists… we might have to downsize (further) to survive,” adding that he has already had to lay off four part-time workers to reduce costs.
A survey by online restaurant-booking service Chope showed that some dining establishments may have to shut permanently if dining-in restrictions are extended beyond 1 June.
About 42 percent of the 140 eateries sampled said that they would not be able to operate beyond two months if they continued incurring costs with no way to bring in enough revenue. About 81 percent of restaurants say they will not last beyond six months.
Since the circuit breaker kicked in last month, about 62 percent of restaurants which have continued to offer takeaway and delivery options have also seen revenue drop by over 50 percent, compared to April 2019.
And it’s not just mom-and-pop stores that are feeling the crunch. Managing director of food and catering firm Select Group, Mr Vincent Tan, said that sales have fallen by more than 60 percent at its food outlets. Select Group manages a variety of food brands including Pho Street, Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert, and Texas Chicken.
Mr Tan added that outlets located in tourist spots like Changi Airport have come to a near standstill.
Stay in Phase 3 until vaccine is developed, but that’s still a long way off
Now, in its briefing of the post-circuit breaker, the Taskforce explained should community transmissions rates remain “low and stable” and the migrant dormitory situation remains under control, the country can move into Phase Two.
This would mean a gradual resumption of more activities, such as allowing dining-in at restaurants, reopening retail stores, gyms, recreational and outdoor facilities as well as and tuition centres. However, these will be subject to strict safe management measures such as limiting gathering sizes.
At the press conference on Tuesday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong noted that this phase may last several months and will only proceed to Phase Three once an effective vaccine or treatment for the virus is developed. Phase Three will be the “new normal”, where the country is in a stable state until an effective vaccine is developed.
“At the end of Phase 2, we will naturally arrive at Phase 3, which is a steady state … a sustainable situation where we are able to make Singapore safe, and there will be some measures continuing to be in place,” said Mr Gan.
The thing is, experts have indicated that it may take a very long time to develop a vaccine. Reuters reported a top US scientist saying that governments should not count on a successful vaccine anytime soon.
Researcher of cancer, HIV/AIDS, and the human genome project William Haseltine said that instead, the better approach is to manage the pandemic through careful infection traction and strict isolation.
The researcher noted that while tests on animals of experimental COVID-19 vaccines have been seen to reduce the viral load in certain organs, the infection still remains.
Going by that, it seems that Singapore will find itself in Phase Two and Three for the long-haul.
But with businesses already struggling to stay afloat due to the sudden loss of income, what will happen to them six months from now, or a year?
TOC is running a survey for businesses that will be closed till Phase Three here, please help to share and fill up the form.