Hong Lim, Chong Boon markets reopen, hawkers ask for easier grant disbursement

Customers at a stall at Chong Boon Market and Food Centre on its first day of reopening, on Aug 3, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Customers at Chong Boon Market and Food Centre on its first day of reopening, on Aug 3, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Some food stalls are still closed at Chong Boon Market and Food Centre, on Aug 3, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Some food sellers just emerging from their two-week quarantine are calling for easier access to financial compensation, having had to throw away much of their fresh ingredients and lost significant revenue due to mandated stall closures.

They said the online application process - which should give them $100 for each day they are forced to shut - is too complicated. Many also did not know how to start or where to go online.

Money should be more quickly dispensed to them, especially when whole food centres are being closed due to the cluster linked to Jurong Fishery Port, they said.

The Straits Times was at the markets and food centres at Hong Lim and Chong Boon, which reopened on Tuesday (Aug 3) to crowds that were far from what they were before.

At both, footfall was sparse and some stallholders chose not to reopen until after the National Day long weekend, due to the difficulty of getting fresh seafood. Others were waiting for more regular patrons to be aware that they are now reopened.

Madam Yeo, 58, who wanted to be known only by her last name, was at Hong Lim to disinfect her roast meat stall before she reopens later in the week. She said she wanted to keep her stall clean due to the ongoing pandemic, but lamented that she was quite discouraged by the emptiness of the market when she arrived in the morning.

"There is compensation for our closure, but it is too difficult to apply and I haven't seen the money. When I ask my children to help with it, they lose their temper. They are busy with their own work too," she said.

"It shouldn't be this hard if all of us are closed. It's not as if we are not working. We try our best every day."

Hawkers who have been served quarantine orders or whose incomes have been adversely affected due to Covid-19 can seek financial help via various Government schemes, such as the Quarantine Order Allowance Scheme, the Courage Fund, or the Covid-19 Recovery Grant. Some of them have also been given rental waivers or reductions.

Madam Yeo's gripe with grant application is a common complaint among stallholders. Mr Ong, 55, who operates a mixed rice stall at Hong Lim, said there are simply too many forms. "Instead of a signature they also require us to use our thumb print for authentication. I don't know how to do that," he said.

"We have approached a few agencies and our community club. We need help."

Mr San Ah Hock, 58, said he will be getting his son to help him with the application.

He has operated the fruit stall at Chong Boon for over 40 years, and knows those who work there well. He estimates that eight out of 10 stallholders at Chong Boon would not know how to apply for the financial aid.

"Most of them are elderly, not that educated or do not have children. I think it would be better if the government can provide assistance automatically to stall owners who had to undergo quarantine."

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The two usually crowded hawker centres had been linked to the Jurong Fishery Port Covid-19 cluster that, as of Monday (Aug 2) night, had reported 1,072 cases. In the last two weeks, both food centres were shut for disinfection to break the transmission chain.

Almost all stallholders had been put up in hotels for a period of isolation.

At Chong Boon, vegetable stall owner Chia Hock Seng, 62, said business was about 20 per cent of the usual.

It was the first time in his over 40 years of operating the stall that he has experienced a closure on this scale at the market, he said, adding that he might return home at noon if the sparse crowds persists.

"We had to throw away about 100kg to 200kg of vegetables when the market closed and lost about $400. It might take at least a month for the crowds to return to the market," Mr Chia said.

The situation at Hong Lim was similar, with Mr Chew Chee Giap, 65, a vegetarian food stall owner, saying that he had served only six customers in the morning, a far cry from the usual 50 to 60 customers he would have had by 9am.

"It is a difficult time for all hawkers," he said. "We are glad to reopen but business right now is unviable."

Footfall was sparse at Chong Boon Market and Food Centre on its first day of reopening, on Aug 3, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Few food stalls were open when ST was at Chong Boon Market and Food Centre, on Aug 3, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The stall operators who chose to open their stall on Tuesday were in any case relieved that their period of quarantine is over.

Mr Ricky Wee, 20, who is an employee at the chicken stall at Chong Boon, said he is happy to be back working. "We can continue with our business so we have more income, instead of staying at the hotel."

Mr Wee Kai Tin, who runs a drink stall at Hong Lim, said: "I had spent my time at Hotel Mi playing Tsum Tsum on my phone and watching television. Business is bad but I'm excited to start work again."

As at July 31, 91 per cent of stallholders, their assistants and cleaners working in all markets and hawker centres managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) or NEA-appointed operators have received at least one dose of vaccine. NEA said 81 per cent of the workers have received both doses and are fully vaccinated.

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