S'pore businesses urge govt adjust restrictions based on Covid-19 'adverse medical outcomes', not overall numbers

Small businesses and retailers have been suffering badly from the past eighteen months of restrictions.

Sulaiman Daud | July 21, 2021, 05:47 PM

Vaccination and the achievement of herd immunity in Singapore is the country's ticket out of the "roller coaster" of tightening and loosening of Covid-19 restrictions, the Alliance of Frontline Business Trade Associations said.

In addition, the government could consider imposing restrictions based on adverse medical outcomes, such as the number of cases in intensive care units, instead of the overall number of infections.

Speaking during a joint press conference with the media on July 21, Andrew Kwan, president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, said:

"For those who are still able to be vaccinated but for various reasons have not yet been able to be vaccinated, we do appeal for everyone to encourage their loved ones, those in your own social circles to please support the national drive to achieve herd immunity quicker.

That is really, ultimately, our true ticket out of this cycle of open and close, you know, heightened alerts, and (reverting) steps, and so forth. I think that's the way forward."

Alliance of business representatives

Kwan was joined by Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, R. Dhinakaran, president of the Singapore Retailer's Association, and Terence Yow, Chairman of the Singapore Tenants United for Fairness (SGTUFF).

The alliance made their joint statement after the recent government announcement that Singapore would go back to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) restrictions.

From July 22 onwards, socialisation outside is capped at two people, dining in is forbidden, and other restrictions will last until Aug. 18.

Would support certain restrictions for those eligible for vaccine but choose not to: Alliance

In its press statement, the alliance said it remains fully supportive of and in agreement with the government’s plan to accelerate and expand the vaccination, testing, and contact tracing programmes so as to turn this pandemic into an endemic issue.

Mothership asked if the alliance would support recent French-style restrictions on access to places like restaurants, cafes, and cinemas to those who are unvaccinated, in order to nudge those on the fence to sign up.

Some 48 hours after French president Emmanuel Macron announced these restrictions, over 2.2 million people signed up for their shots.

In response, Kwan said it was "beyond their paygrade" to comment on Singapore policy, and while it remains to be seen if it can work overseas, he personally thinks it could be a "catalyst" for those who are medically eligible to get the vaccine but have not done so.

He added that they would be supportive of such an initiative, if one is announced in Singapore.

Look at adverse medical outcomes, instead of overall infection numbers

In response to a question from CNA, who asked how is morale among the business community as they are the main ones affected by restrictions, Yow said the community is "pretty numb".

"You know after 16 months of crisis... of varying forms of restrictions and relaxation and restrictions, I think we understand that unfortunately frontline businesses will always suffer the brunt of social restriction and social movement policies. We understand that."

At the same time, Yow said that as the vaccination rates go up, he hopes the government can look at "adverse medical outcomes", such as the number of people who need oxygen support, the number of cases in the intensive care unit, and the number of deaths, rather than the number of overall infections.

Yow said that restrictions could be based on these metrics, which is the "whole point and purpose" of moving Singapore to a point where Covid-19 is treated as an endemic disease, which the authorities recently alluded to.

Yow added:

"The faster we get vaccinated, the faster we look at adverse outcomes, instead of just infection numbers, then the less likely frontline businesses like ours will have to bear the brunt of clusters that will emerge, every so often, because I think that's going to be a reality moving forward and there's no point trying to blame specific clusters."

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said something similar on July 16, that the authorities are carefully monitoring the number of Covid-19 patients who require intensive care.

Call for more financial support

The alliance also made the following appeals to the government and landlords:

  • For landlords to take on a fair share of the burden with their tenants across all sectors including F&B, retail, services and other frontline businesses. Timely rental rebates commensurate with revenue impact whenever mandatory dine-in or social movement restrictions are in place will be appreciated.
  • For support to all frontline businesses including retail, F&B and services on the cost of wages so that businesses can keep as many jobs for Singaporeans as possible.
  • Extension of bank loan principal moratorium to June 2022.

R. Dhinakaran explained the "on-the-ground" reality faced by many retailers, who have been "suffering very badly" for the past eighteen months.

Although it is not a full Circuit Breaker, fewer people are visiting the malls, and those who do are not buying as much as compared to pre-Covid-19 levels, and sales have not recovered.

He said that under these circumstances, the "pain" should be shared by both businesses and landlords together, as a fair request, suggesting that businesses could pay rental fees based on a percentage of their sales instead.

He also called for the government to extend the loan principal moratorium, and for the government to consider offering help in the form of the Jobs Support Scheme for retailers with local employees."

"Every small businesses, SMEs, are trying very hard, from their own resources, trying to finance the business more and more, and continuing with that, instead of shutting it down. That is not good for Singapore, good for landlords, good for anybody."

Top image by Syahindah Ishak and Lean Jinghui.