Coronavirus: Minister addresses concerns over curbs on home-based bakers

Home bakeries are not allowed to operate under the enhanced circuit breaker measures. PHOTO: ST FILE

The rules disallowing home-based bakers from operating during the coronavirus circuit breaker may be eased if community transmission numbers are brought down, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

Speaking at a multi-ministry task force media conference yesterday, he said: "Current rules do not allow for home-based F&B, but if and when community numbers do continue to come down... we may very well relax some of the restrictions, and at that time we will let Singaporeans know when this or any other activities that we think can start will be able to resume."

He added: "There will be some sacrifices - (it is) not easy, but we call on everyone to hunker down until May 4 at least."

Home-based businesses can operate online only if the business owner and staff do not leave their respective homes, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Housing Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority in a joint statement last Saturday.

The business should also not involve any visitors, customers or third-party delivery services coming to the premises to collect or deliver goods. This means that home-based bakers and cooks have to cease business operations.

The authorities said first-time offenders will be issued composition offers of $1,000, and repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court.

Mrs Lydia Chan, 33, said she refunded over $500 to customers - around half of her monthly income from selling stuffed Nutella doughnuts under her brand Eshal's Tart, which she runs full time. "We were already doing contactless delivery before this, where I leave the items on the bench outside our flat, so it is a little disappointing that I have to stop even though I understand why," said the mother of two.

Ms Azila Mdyasin, 25, who runs online cookie business Koo-Eh Legacy, has had to tell all her customers who made prepaid orders - for about 50 jars of cookies in total - that she will deliver them only after the measures are lifted.

She learnt of the rules last Saturday after reading Malay-language paper Berita Harian's report, which noted that home bakers cannot operate if they involve delivery services. She then called HDB yesterday morning to get confirmation.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari said: "Such businesses are quite common in the Malay-Muslim community, especially in the month of Ramadan. Given the current circuit breaker measures and the closure of Ramadan bazaars, many have moved into home-based businesses as a means to earn supplementary income or to earn a livelihood since their regular jobs have been affected."

A petition on Change.org calling for small home-based food and beverage (F&B) businesses to be allowed to operate in compliance with circuit breaker rules garnered more than 65,000 signatures as of yesterday evening.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said in a Facebook post yesterday that it was "irresponsible" to incite home-based F&B business owners to pressure the Government into making exceptions for them.

He did not single out anyone in his Facebook post, but said: "They are purportedly fighting for the rights of the entrepreneurs but in fact they're only rubbing more salt into their wounds - because they know the Government cannot make exceptions for any sector affected in the (tightened circuit breaker) period."

Such parties disregard the safety of home-based business operators and the community, he added. "If (these) 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."

A number of e-commerce platforms intended to replace Ramadan bazaars were announced recently, including one initiated by the People's Association called GeylangBazaar.Online.

Home-based F&B businesses that signed up for these online bazaars are now unlikely to be able to participate.

Ms Azila, who quit her job as an administrative assistant late last year to focus on her business full time, said: "It is my first time doing Hari Raya orders, so I was looking forward to making people happy with my cookies.

"Thankfully, my customers are very understanding when I told them I had to stop for now."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Minister addresses concerns over curbs on home-based bakers. Subscribe