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Singapore locks down until June: which stores can open, which cannot

The Singapore government has reduced the list of “essential services” as part of a tougher clampdown on social distancing as it tries to arrest the spread of Covid-19 in the city state.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on last night announced a trimmed list essential services applied during the “circuit breaker” period which has been extended for another four weeks and will likely not now end until June 1. Subsequently, more retailers including food and beverage outlets have to temporarily shut down its business – although this is initially going to be enforced only until May 4, subject to extension.

Here are types of food and beverage retailers that must suspend their operations from today (April 22):

  • All food-and-beverage vending machines located in parks, regardless of what they sell, must be shut. Takeaway and delivery services located in parks are to close.
  • Stores predominantly selling beverages including bubble tea, fruit juice, alcoholic drinks and coffee.
  • Stores predominantly selling packaged snacks and loose snacks including nuts, potato chips, popcorn, bak kwa and cheese.
  • Stores predominantly selling desserts including ice cream, cakes, sweet pastries, grass jelly and red/green bean soup. However, these rules do not apply to hawker centres and food courts. Online retailing of these products is allowed, provided that they are from a licensed central kitchen, manufacturing facility or warehouse of the food-and-beverage company.
  • Optical shops can operate by appointment only, with walk-in customers banned.
  • Pet supplies stores and retail laundry services must close their physical stores, but are permitted to provide online sales and delivery.

Other food-and-beverage outlets, including those selling hot or cooked snacks, bread or meals, are allowed to continue to sell, but only via takeaway or delivery services during the “circuit breaker” period. Dining-in is not permitted.

The Straits Times has published an alphabetical guide showing the status of popular food-and-beverage chains across the island here.

The rules set by the MTI are confusing to operators, possibly due to the haste with which they were prepared. It says that specialised stores and outlets “that predominantly retail” coffee and tea must close. Immediately below that declaration, the MTI says “Only hawker centres, coffeeshops and food courts are excluded”.

Seeking clarification, we were told: “Standalone outlets (excluding those in hawker centres, food courts and coffeeshops) that sell only beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries or desserts will be required to close their outlets. Other F&B outlets that sell meals can continue to remain open for takeaway and delivery services only.”

A government spokesperson told Inside Retail Asia in an email that “F&B outlets which provide meals, such as sandwiches and hot/cooked food, will be allowed to continue to operate”. That is why Starbucks, for example – which predominantly sells coffee and tea – is allowed to continue trading, because it also sells a small range of baked goods and meals.

We also questioned why bubble-tea shops located inside hawker centres are allowed to continue to trade, yet those located in malls – which are temperature-testing visitors and might be considered a more safe and secure environment – are banned from doing so.

The reply: “In general, coffeeshops, hawker centres and food courts are exempted from suspension in their entirety as we recognise that these establishments provide affordable food options for the public and we view all individual stalls as forming the overall offerings of these establishments. However, we advise the public not to rush to queue at bubble tea, dessert and beverage stalls, and to observe safe distancing measures when making such purchases. The government will continue to monitor the situation and review where necessary.

“These additional measures were put in place to further reduce the number of workers who have to physically go to work, so that we can minimise the movement and interaction of people, and curb the spread of Covid-19. We have also observed crowding by customers and delivery riders at certain F&B outlets and retail shops hence the need to tighten the list of businesses that are permitted to operate during the Circuit Breaker.”

Meanwhile, supermarkets and wet markets can continue trading as normal, however social-distancing practices must be observed, the government advises.

Starbucks Singapore advised Inside Retail Asia that it would continue to. use its mobile ordering app for customer pickup from stores, as well as providing home delivery via partners GrabFood, Food Panda and Deliveroo.

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