COVID-19 Budget: Government to announce legal measures involving paid deposits as soon-to-wed couples stuck in limbo
SINGAPORE: The Government will present a set of measures dealing with obligations such as deposits next week, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as he announced a Resilience Budget to help deal with the COVID-19 outbreak on Thursday (Mar 26).
The announcement came as stricter safe distancing measures, such as the 10-person limit on gatherings outside work and school, came into effect the same day.
Previously, the limit for such events was 250 people.
READ: COVID-19 temporary measures: Gatherings outside of school and work limited to 10 people, entertainment venues to close
Because of the new regulations, some have found themselves in need of relief from legal obligations, said Mr Heng.
"It is not fault of theirs that they cannot perform these obligations," he said, adding that one example of a legal obligation is the deposit paid for a big gathering that can now no longer happen.
‘Should the deposits be simply forfeited? That won’t be right,” he said. “The Government is studying the issue and the Minister of Law will present a set of measures next week to deal with this at the next parliamentary sitting.”
COUPLES IN LIMBO
Upon hearing the announcement, brides and grooms in a Telegram group chat named "Wedding affected by COVID-19" expressed their relief through messages saying "thank god" and thumbs-up emojis.
Many couples have had to put their nuptials on hold because of the evolving situation.
READ: COVID-19 Resilience Budget: ‘Landmark’ S$48 billion package to tide Singapore through ‘unprecedented’ crisis
One bride, who was supposed to be married on Saturday in a hotel ballroom with 1,200 guests, had to postpone the event indefinitely.
After the initial rule limiting events to 250 or fewer participants was announced on Mar 20, Ms Arynah Aminuddin and her fiance scrambled to cut their guest list to 600 so that there would be fewer than 250 people in the ballroom at any one time.
But when the latest advisory was issued, the 26-year-old, who works as an assistant retail manager, decided to call it off.
"Bitter," she said, when asked how she was feeling.
Ms Arynah said there would now only be a private solemnisation ceremony to mark her marriage.
Mr Zaki Abdul Rahman, 29, is in a similar boat. Since Tuesday's announcement, he had been feeling helpless, he said. His wedding is scheduled for Apr 11.
He said he and his fiancee want to cancel their celebration instead of postponing it as they believe there would be "no window for celebration" this year.
They had earlier cut the number of guests down from 800 to 150 in order to keep well within the original safe distancing measures.
After the 10-person limit was announced, their wedding vendor Royal Palm at Orchid Country Club sent the couple an e-mail to say they could proceed with holding the wedding either on Apr 11 or later.
The event would be catered to 150 guests and observe "precautionary measures" such as 1m markers to to ensure ample distancing in queues, no more than 25 tables at least 1m apart, six chairs per dining table and workers to limit physical contact at the buffet station.
If the couple did not want to proceed, they would lose their deposit and be imposed with cancellation charges.
However, the restaurant's group director of sales said in an email response to CNA that it allows cancellations.
“For such requests, we will work out directly with our clients on the contingency plan and a suitable later date,” wrote Ms Ruby. She did not provide her last name.
“Any request for cancellation (if any) has to be viewed in totality and has to be customer-centric in nature. We need to explore all scenarios with our clients be it to defer or to reduce the numbers originally agreed,” she wrote in a following e-mail.
Subsequent calls, emails and text messages to Ms Ruby were unanswered.
Mr Zaki said he is stuck in limbo because it remains unclear if the couple is allowed more than 10 guests at the wedding.
Bride-to-be Iona Shi, 33, said that she has felt “very tired and honestly really worried with the ever-evolving situation”.
She is hoping that for the sake of her guests' safety, she can cancel her wedding, which is supposed to be held on Jun 20 at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
But as she is currently bound by a contract with the hotel, she will wait to see what happens nearer to the date instead.
“Now we can’t even plan anything – like who to invite or un-invite – though (the) wedding is two to three months away,” Ms Shi, an associate in the banking industry, said.
A spokesperson from Mandarin Oriental Singapore said that it is “reviewing all wedding bookings on a case by case basis in view of the latest social distancing announcements”.
News that the law ministry will look into legal obligations such as deposits put Ms Shi more at ease.
“Hopefully it is something that works for both vendors and couples," she said.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Singapore Tourism Board have yet to respond to CNA’s requests for clarification on whether more than 10 guests are allowed at weddings held in hotels and restaurants.
MOH's statement on Tuesday said that people are "advised" to avoid holding social events such as weddings, but the ministry did not say if it is mandatory to cancel these gatherings.
Weddings are also often held at HDB void-decks and multi-purpose halls.
Dr Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman of the town councils, said the onus is on residents who use town council facilities to make sure that precautionary measures are being taken.
Town councils have conveyed the latest MOH advisories to those who have booked their amenities and reminded them to monitor the MOH website, said Dr Teo, adding that residents have so far been cooperative with many coming forward to either cancel or postpone large-scale events such as weddings.
CATERERS HIT BY MEASURES
Although it is unclear what lies in the horizon, caterers have seen a slew of cancellations.
Cancellations were made for weddings held mostly between March to July 2020, said managing director of Elsie’s Kitchen Catering Reuben Ang, while many couples who are having their weddings from August onwards have opted to postpone.
Overall sales in March and April dipped by 50 to 55 per cent year-on-year, he said.
The caterer provides a full refund to customers if they are able to provide a one-week notice, although an administrative fee will be charged for the process.
READ: Singapore's economy contracts by 2.2% in Q1 as COVID-19 outbreak hits construction, services sectors
“As we understand the unforeseen circumstances faced by couples due to this virus outbreak, we offer the flexibility to reduce their number of pax and fees are also pro-rated to help couples better manage their cost during this period,” Mr Ang said.
“We also do not impose additional fees for reduction of pax as long as they are able to provide at least five days’ notice in advance of their event date,” he added.
Managing director of Rasel Catering Alan Tan said that two customers have cancelled their wedding celebrations and been refunded with credits.
Rasel Catering also allows its customers to postpone their orders up to a year and reduce the number of people being catered for as long as customers inform them at least five working days in advance.