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Requiring COVID-19 vaccination checks at hawker centres, coffee shops will add to hawkers' burdens: MOH, NEA

Requiring COVID-19 vaccination checks at hawker centres, coffee shops will add to hawkers' burdens: MOH, NEA
People queue to buy food at a hawker centre in Singapore on May 16, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: Requiring COVID-19 vaccination status checks at hawker centres and coffee shops will "add to the burden of already struggling operators and stallholders", authorities said on Thursday (Aug 26). 

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) were responding to a Facebook post made by food blogger KF Seetoh. 

In his post, he questioned the "two-people mandate" for hawker centres and coffee shops, and said he "still gets info about closures almost daily".

Under current COVID-19 measures, people are only allowed to dine in groups of two at coffee shops and hawker centres, regardless of their vaccination status. 

Only fully vaccinated individuals are allowed to dine in at food and beverage establishments, in groups of up to five. 

"It's still two at the kopitiam and hawkers but ironically five at indoor air-con food courts (as if circulated indoor air is much better)," said Mr Seetoh. 

In a joint statement, MOH and NEA said they shared Mr Seetoh's "passion about hawker food and the concern for the well-being of our hawkers". 

"At the same time, we are in extraordinary times and cannot ignore the strong public health reasons for the dine-in rules," they said.

Dining-in has become a high-risk activity during the COVID-19 pandemic because masks are removed and people interact at close proximity, said the authorities. 

"If a diner is unvaccinated and catches the virus, he has a high risk of falling very ill," they added. 

The current rule of allowing only fully vaccinated individuals to dine in F&B outlets with a cap of five people was to protect the unvaccinated. 

"This rule, however, is impractical for hawker centres and coffee shops, which are open and porous, with a mixture of dine-in and takeaway customers.

"If we require vaccination status checks at hawker centres and coffee shops, it will add to the burden of already struggling operators and stallholders," said MOH and NEA.

F&B outlets that are unable to do vaccination status checks are currently not allowed to have any dine-in customers, they said. 

"But the multi-ministry task force decided to extend a concession for hawker centres and coffee shops to have dining-in of two persons, regardless of their vaccination status.

"This is to help our hawkers and stallholders, while limiting the spread of the virus," the authorities added. 

MOH and NEA said the Government has provided support to hawkers including through the Market and Hawker Centre Relief Fund announced last month.

All cooked food and market stallholders at hawker centres and markets managed by NEA or its appointed operators will receive a S$500 assistance, with no action from the stallholders required. 

"Most stallholders have already had the amount credited in their bank accounts," said the joint statement, adding that the relief fund comes in addition to existing rental waivers and subsidies. 

Since the start of 2021, stallholders at markets and hawker centres managed by NEA or its appointed operators have received three months of rental waivers, as well as three months of cleaning fee subsidies.

There have also been programmes including funding support for interested hawkers who sign up to digital delivery platforms. The occupancy for cooked food stalls in NEA-managed centres has also remained high, averaging at about 97 per cent. 

"We seek everyone’s support for the health protocols, so that we can open up our economy safely and continue to protect the health and livelihoods of our people," said MOH and NEA. 

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Source: CNA/lk

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