Impractical to raise dine-in cap at hawker centres, coffee shops, say MOH and NEA

Currently, up to two people are allowed to dine together at these places, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - It is impractical to increase dine-in caps for hawker centres and coffee shops to five vaccinated customers, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday (Aug 26).

Currently, up to two people are allowed to dine together at these places, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.

Such premises are open and porous, with a mixture of dine-in and takeaway customers, the authorities noted in their response to a Facebook post earlier on Thursday by Makansutra founder K. F. Seetoh.

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

Mr Seetoh had said it is ironic that the cap on dining in at coffee shops and hawker centres remains at two, while it is set at five for air-conditioned foodcourts.

Since Aug 10, Singapore has allowed people to dine at restaurants in groups of up to five if all of them are fully vaccinated.

Mr Seetoh said the two-person cap for hawker centres and coffee shops is damaging the livelihoods of hawkers.

It is causing stalls to close, costing them jobs, impacting their ability to pay bills and damaging their mental health, he added.

He also said he knew of as many as 150 hawkers who left the business last year, and that he gets information of closures "almost daily".

In response, MOH and NEA said dining-in is a high-risk activity as masks are removed and people are interacting in close quarters. An unvaccinated diner who gets Covid-19 is at high risk of falling very ill, the authorities added.

While food and beverage outlets that cannot check patrons' vaccination status are not allowed to have any dine-in customers, the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 had decided to allow dining in for two at hawker centres and coffee shops as a concession, they said.

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

The authorities also said the Government has been providing support to hawkers through policies like the Market and Hawker Centre Relief Fund.

Through the fund, all cooked food and market stallholders at hawker centres and markets managed by NEA or its appointed operators will receive $500. Most hawkers have already had the money credited into their bank accounts, said MOH and NEA.

The relief fund comes on top of rental waivers and subsidies for hawkers, they added. 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 and cleaning fee subsidies.

The authorities also pointed to programmes like funding support for hawkers who sign up to online delivery platforms.

The occupancy rate for cooked food stalls in centres managed by NEA has remained high at an average of about 97 per cent, they added.

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