Home-based F&B businesses look beyond circuit breaker period, some rally to help those affected
SINGAPORE: When home baker Lee Su Fang heard about the tighter COVID-19 "circuit breaker" rules last week, she was already expecting the worst for her business.
The authorities had announced on Apr 21 that the list of what are considered essential services will be trimmed. Shops that sell only beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries or desserts have had to shut.
READ: From bubble tea runs to getting a haircut: What you can or cannot do under tighter COVID-19 circuit breaker rules
While there was initial confusion over whether home-based food and beverage businesses would be affected, Ms Lee – who runs her five-year-old business Frosted by Fang out of her family’s condominium in Serangoon – said she had already planned to suspend operations, so she would not fall on the wrong side of regulations.
The 24-year-old told CNA on Tuesday (Apr 28) that she stands to lose the income she normally makes a month as a home baker, adding that she will have to rely on her savings to tide her through this period.
Ms Lee said she feels quite lucky because she still lives with her parents, but she feels for those whose home businesses have been affected by the current situation.
Under the rules, home-based businesses – including those in F&B – have to suspend operations online if they require the owner or staff members to leave their homes, or if they require third-party services in the delivery of goods. Customers are also not allowed to collect the goods themselves.
These regulations left some questioning how home-based businesses could operate at all, and why "contactless" deliveries would not be allowed.
At a press conference on Apr 27, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong stressed that these measures are necessary to "decisively" bring down the number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
“The current rules do not allow for home-based F&B, we’ve made that very clear. But if and when the community numbers do continue to come down, as we said, we are going to review the measures and if the numbers have been brought down, we may very well relax some of the restrictions, ease up on some of these restrictions," he said.
“There will be some sacrifice. It is not easy but we really call on everyone to hunker down on this final stretch at least until May 4."
Some people had raised questions about the implications of the move for home-based businesses which can leverage greater demand around religious festivals such as Ramadan.
Online marketplace B.Halal, which was launched following the cancellation of all Ramadan bazaars this year due to COVID-19, said a number of vendors pulled out after news of the tighter rules.
Its chief executive and founder Muhammad Alkhatib said that the company wants to continue supporting the "little guys", adding it aims to work within the boundaries with its existing vendors.
And setting aside the challenges of the current situation, Mr Muhammad said he is optimistic about B.Halal's long-term operations beyond the circuit breaker period.
Noting the impact of the regulations, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli appealed for the public to unite in the country's fight against COVID-19.
"If the HBB (home-based business) operators continue their business as usual, they run the risk of being infected or becoming a cluster of COVID-19 cases – more so near Raya, when orders pile up," he wrote on Facebook.
"In this crisis, we must unite if we want to prevent community spread of COVID-19. This involves adjusting and sacrificing for the sake of all, and not letting personal interests dictate our actions. I'm sure the majority of our HBB community understand this."
HELP FOR HOME-BASED BUSINESSES
Meanwhile, some are reaching out to help affected home-based businesses.
In a statement on Monday, the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was in discussions with the relevant authorities to “try and achieve a solution to this matter”, and called on home-based business operators to share information such as what services they provide and how long they have been in operation to facilitate its discussions.
Crowding platform Ray of Hope, a registered charity, has started a campaign to raise S$50,000, with the aim of providing 100 home bakers with S$500 each to help them tide over this period.
Social media personalities Hafidz Rahman and Zuhairi Idris, who run popular YouTube channel Lepak One Korner, have started a crowdfunding effort to raise S$50,000 and aim to support at least 50 home businesses during the circuit breaker period.
Separately, pop-up F&B retailer Naughty Boyz, which sells macaroni and cheese, has offered its central kitchen to home-based food businesses in need of a workspace.
Although Naughty Boyz has been affected by the circuit breaker, owner Abdul Rashid Mahmood said he wants to do what he can for others, adding that he is thinking of renting two additional kitchen spaces for this purpose.
“When I started my business, we didn’t have anyone to help us,” said the 26-year-old.
READ: Retrenchments and withdrawn job offers - Singapore's labour market shows signs of COVID-19 strain
"Be patient," said Mr Masagos, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.
"When things get sufficiently better for our health authorities to advise the lifting of restrictions, we will allow our barbers and HBB to go back to do their business. This can only happen when we all work together."
Editor's note: Details about Frosted by Fang provided by Lee Su Fang have been removed from this article at her request.