Food supplies still coming, but other Singapore firms brace for disruptions from Malaysia’s shutdown
SINGAPORE: Local food importers heaved a sigh of relief as their supplies from Malaysia arrived as planned, uninterrupted by the country's movement control order which kicked in on Wednesday (Mar 18).
However, that is not the case for those in other sectors. From construction to manufacturing, some Singapore businesses are bracing for supply disruptions of key materials during the near two-week shutdown.
The new measures in Malaysia, aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, bar its citizens from going overseas and foreigners from entering the country from Wednesday until the end of the month. All businesses will also be closed, except for those in essential services such as water, electricity, energy, telecommunications and transport.
This will not affect the flow of goods and cargo, including food supplies, between Singapore and Malaysia, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said on Tuesday following a discussion with his Malaysian counterpart Muhyiddin Yassin.
Owners of food businesses were relieved to see their supplies coming through on Wednesday morning, after spending most of Tuesday waiting for some clarity.
Mr Jerry Tan, vice president of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, said: “Everything was very smooth. Farms are still operating (in Malaysia) as food is considered an essential service so supply is more than enough.”
With the situation seemingly back to normal, Mr Tan said he is cancelling some back-up plans, such as getting suppliers from other countries to be on standby.
Mr Lee Boon Cheow, managing director of High Tide Frozen Food, said some imports of fish and seafood did not arrive on Wednesday morning but that was due to a handful of suppliers in Malaysia being unsure about whether they were allowed to enter Singapore.
“Now they understand the situation, supplies of fish and seafood are all back to normal by now,” he told CNA in Mandarin, adding that supplies are "more than enough" to meet demand.
The former president of the Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association also said that Singapore imports less than 20 per cent of its fish from Malaysia. Indonesia and Thailand are the major markets, with the former accounting for about 40 per cent of the Singapore's fish imports.
"Even with the lockdown, the impact wouldn't be that big," he said.
Chicken supplier Toh Thye San Farm told CNA that its farms in Malaysia – more than 10 of them and mainly located in the Simpang Renggam region – will “carry on as per normal”.
Its supply of live broilers from these farms to Singapore for six days a week will also continue uninterrupted, its head of projects Kenny Toh said.
Home-grown food manufacturer Tee Yih Jia (TYJ) has a factory in Johor Bahru and an office in Kuala Lumpur. A spokesperson said while some of its Malaysian employees have applied for leave to be at home with their families, that does not affect its operations there.
As it imports some raw materials from Malaysia into Singapore, the household brand told CNA that its supply chain team from Malaysia was “on the ground to determine the procedural requirements” on Wednesday given that it was the first day of the movement control order.
“TYJ Malaysia is operating to ensure our food products continue to be available in supermarkets and groceries stores,” said the company spokesperson.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said most wholesalers and retailers received their goods from Malaysia as usual on Wednesday morning.
Other goods such as pharmaceuticals and infant diapers, have also been allowed into Singapore, although there has been feedback from some companies that trucks containing non-food items have not been allowed through, he said in a Facebook post.
"I am glad to see that the supply of fresh food has not been fully disrupted," he wrote. "We are monitoring the situation closely and are in touch with our Malaysian counterparts to ensure that food and other supplies will be able to come through to Singapore."
READ: Most imports of fresh food from Malaysia arrived as normal, other goods also allowed in: Chan Chun Sing
OTHER SECTORS BRACE FOR DISRUPTIONS
Nevertheless some Singapore businesses in other sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, are bracing for challenges during the shutdown.
Straits Construction executive director Kenneth Loo said a majority of the precast concrete products used in Singapore are brought in from Malaysia, particularly Johor Bahru.
These products, which range from precast columns, beams to prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC) modules, are “critical items” needed in building construction.
“We have some stocks but because these are very bulky components, what we have will last at most a week, depending on project,” said Mr Loo.
Noting that industry players like him were caught off guard by Malaysia's announcement late on Monday, he said: “There was no clarity about whether supplies will be come until later part of (Tuesday) when we finally got confirmation that it won’t be coming. This is a big concern.”
Mr Loo reckoned that two out of the company’s six projects might have to operate at a slower pace.
“Many of these are bespoke products for individual projects so it’s not as simple to divert it to be done somewhere else,” he told CNA.
"The situation is still very fluid so we can only take it as it comes."
Renovation works for individual home owners may also be impacted, said an interior designer who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak on behalf of his company.
He said the local market engages many carpenters who work out of workshops in Malaysia.
“Many workers like tilers and others who do up partitions, floors and ceilings are from Malaysia. Their bosses have made arrangements for them to stay in Singapore but carpenters are the bigger problem because their workshops and factories are in Malaysia. There’s no way to bring that over,” he told CNA.
“We will have to wait until the lockdown is over but for two weeks, we won’t be able to do anything in terms of carpentry work.”
His company has since informed around 15 home owners about the problem. Most have been understanding, he said.
But if the nationwide restriction of movements in Malaysia is extended, the company may have to activate contingency plans, such as engaging local carpenters, he added.
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In the manufacturing sector, companies depend on Malaysia for a wide range of raw materials, such as cables, chemical, metal plates and wires. Many also have facilities in the country where production is carried out before shifting the products to Singapore for final assembly.
Mr Douglas Foo, president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF), said: “As our members are in a very wide range of industries and scale, the impact of the movement control order has been very different for our members.”
SMF said it is "assured" by how food items and medical supplies have been allowed through the borders of both countries so as not to affect businesses too significantly.
For the rest, most manufacturers will be using existing stocks to continue operations until the end of the month, said Mr Foo.
News of the restricted movement order came as a “nightmare” for one local confinement nanny agency that employs all of its confinement ladies –a woman hired to provide care and guidance for a new mother and her newborn – from Malaysia.
Since the announcement was made on Monday night, Confinement Angels began contacting affected customers and nannies. All 45 confinement ladies who are due to start work over the next two weeks are now in Singapore, with more than half being arranged to stay in hotels, hostels and homes of the agency’s employees.
READ: Short-term housing options available for some workers who commute between Singapore and Malaysia frequently
Meanwhile, 18 of these nannies have moved in earlier with the families they are supposed to assist.
For those who are currently working in Singapore and will end their stints before end-March, arrangements are being made for them to be deployed to another family after a few days’ rest.
“It was a messy and stressful last-minute arrangement, but we managed to overcome it,” said Confinement Angels’ brand and business development in-charge Gilbert Tan.