Businesses given green light to reopen on May 12 need not seek MTI approval

Pet supply stores and retail laundry services can reopen physical stores on May 12, 2020.
Pet supply stores and retail laundry services can reopen physical stores on May 12, 2020.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - All businesses in categories given the green light to resume operations on Tuesday (May 12) can do so without needing to seek approval, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said on Wednesday (May 6).

This means all food outlets selling packaged snacks, cakes, confectionery and desserts as well as home-based food businesses and hairdressers can reopen, subject to restrictions. Hairdressers may only offer haircuts, while dining in remains banned.

Pet supply stores and retail laundry services, which had been restricted to online sales and deliveries since tighter circuit breaker measures kicked in on April 22, can reopen physical stores next Tuesday.

The clarification comes amid some confusion after the multi-ministry task force handling the Covid-19 outbreak announced on Saturday (May 2) that some sectors would be able to reopen from May 12 with businesses being notified directly.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said then that shops must obtain exemptions from the MTI and those that have not been notified should not presume that they may resume operations.

The ministry said on Wednesday that those in the earlier announced categories do not need to seek exemption before resuming operations, given the large number of businesses involved.

Instead, MTI will grant them a class exemption to resume business during this period, subject to them fully implementing safe management measures.

It added that the Government will work with trade associations and chambers to help businesses implement these measures before reopening.  

Companies The Straits Times spoke to said they are relieved to be able to reopen next week, although some expressed frustration over the lack of communication and clarity around the rules.

NO MOTHER'S DAY SALES FOR BAKERIES

Mr Wei Chan, managing director of The Pine Garden bakery, said the announcement on Saturday of an extra week of store closures came late for bakeries like his, which had already started taking cake orders for Mother's Day on Sunday (May 10).


 The Pine Garden had to stop selling cakes at its flagship store in Ang Mo Kio. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

It is now refunding customers and offering savoury alternatives such as steamed turnip cake instead.

The tighter rules aimed at reducing the number of people commuting to work had originally been scheduled to end on Monday (May 4), although the Government had said they could be extended.

The Pine Garden, which sells cakes and bread, has had to close four of its six outlets and stop selling cakes at its flagship store in Ang Mo Kio.

"Mother's Day is quite huge for bakeries ... a lot of us rely on takings from festive holidays to balance out profits for the whole year," said Mr Chan, who is also the assistant honorary secretary of the Restaurant Association of Singapore.

Mr Chan said that while businesses understand the need for the stricter rules, trade associations and chambers should be consulted ahead of time for smoother implementation. The April 21 announcement gave operators just a few hours' notice to close shops and had led to much food wastage, he added.

"We feel ill-equipped to help members, and when we ask questions, we don't always get answers," Mr Chan added.

 
 
 

To add to the confusion, some bakeries had received e-mails from the MTI after they had shut, informing them that they would be permitted to open on May 4. These e-mails were later rescinded, said Mr Chan.

A spokesman for cake company Chalk Farm said many orders for the coming month had to be cancelled when its stores and central kitchen were shut.

"As we deal with perishables, wastage was on the high side as it was a last-minute directive that was issued," he said.

Both outlets in Paragon and Parkway Parade will reopen for takeaway and online delivery on May 12.

NOT ALL OUTLETS REOPENING ON MAY 12

While businesses are gearing up to resume operations, not all are opening their outlets at once.

Bak kwa brand Lim Chee Guan said it will reopen its flagship store in New Bridge Road first and monitor the situation before deciding when to open the other three outlets.


Lim Chee Guan will reopen its flagship store in New Bridge Road first. PHOTO: ST FILE

Bakery chain Bengawan Solo will open 40 of its 44 shops next Tuesday after a three-week break. Three of its outlets in Changi Airport and one in department store Takashimaya will remain closed.

The firm, which usually begins preparations for its cakes the night before, will have to rush its production on opening day as the manufacturing of food items such as cakes and confectionery will only be allowed to resume on May 12.

"We'll have to start baking really early in the morning, and might have a limited number of products for sale on the first day," said director Henry Liew.

Mr Ng Whye Hoe, group managing director of Pet Lovers Centre, said online sales have increased 10-fold over the past two weeks as pet owners running low on food and supplies have overwhelmed its e-commerce site.

 
 
 
 

At the start of its store closures, the backlog of orders had resulted in delays of up to a month for deliveries, though this has since been cut down to two weeks, he said.

Mr Ng noted that the company is stocking up and disinfecting its stores in preparation for the opening of its 70 outlets.

It is "about time" pet supply shops are allowed to reopen, he said, though he added that grooming services should be allowed to resume as well as they are essential for dogs.

"They're allowing hairdressers and barbers to reopen, but the risk of transmission from grooming is lower than humans going for a haircut," said Mr Ng.

"I asked Enterprise Singapore why grooming is not allowed but didn't get an explanation; they're probably so overwhelmed with requests."