SINGAPORE - Students will be given more time in the first few weeks of January to buy school uniforms, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Tuesday (Dec 29).
Schools, which reopen from Jan 4, will work closely with their vendors to ensure that students can buy their school uniforms as soon as possible, and facilitate the sale of uniforms in school, MOE told The Straits Times.
The reply comes after an incident earlier in the day in which the police had to disperse a crowd which gathered outside a uniform shop in Ang Mo Kio.
The crowd comprised parents who tried to buy and exchange school uniforms for their children before school starts next week, with many not practising safe distancing.
MOE explained that due to Covid-19, schools were advised to make adjustments to their year-end school activities to safeguard the health of the school community.
This included asking schools to work with vendors to allow parents or guardians to buy their children's or wards' uniforms and books online and provide home deliveries.
Vendors could also allow parents or guardians to make appointments to buy uniforms in schools or at their own physical stores.
"MOE and schools understand the challenges faced by parents and vendors," said the ministry, adding that schools will also make arrangements for students unable to buy school uniforms in time for the start of school.
This includes allowing them to report in their physical education attire, or primary school uniforms.
On Tuesday, parents and their children were at the Jeep Sing Fashion store around 8am, two hours before it opened, for a queue ticket to get school uniforms.
By around 10am, more than 100 people had formed a snaking queue to get into the shop located at Block 4012 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, with some ignoring the 1m safe distancing requirement.
Six police officers were then spotted outside the uniform shop urging parents to stand further apart, and to encourage some to leave.
Around 70 people who had queue tickets were left in the line at 11.30am.
On its website, the shop advised customers not to turn up, as all queue tickets for the day had been issued.
Mr Shio Kumar, 46, who works in the marine industry, waited for two hours before he finally got his three-year-old daughter her kindergarten uniform.
He had waited in line for three hours on Monday but was told to return another day because of the size of the crowd.
Mr Kumar added that the kindergarten told him to get the uniforms from the shop directly.
"The buying of school uniforms is usually a seamless process because we can collect from the school directly. Today was my first time at a uniform shop and the crowd was just horrible," he said.
Madam Sharon Yee, 33, could not get a queue ticket to buy uniforms for her son, who will be starting secondary school, even though she was at the store at 8.55am.
Secondary 1 posting results were released on Dec 22.
"My son can't wear his primary school uniform for the first few days of Secondary 1 because he has outgrown it.
"He might feel embarrassed that he doesn't have a uniform when his friends have theirs," said the civil servant.
Jeep Sing Fashion declined comment when contacted. But in a Facebook post on Tuesday, the uniform retailer apologised to customers for the long queues and delay in orders.
"In view of Covid-19, we are experiencing a massive surge in demand for our uniforms in terms of physical and e-commerce orders," said the store, adding that it is doing its "utmost best to fulfil your orders as soon as possible".
"We fully understand the frustration and urgency of getting the uniform quickly for your child."
The police also cleared crowds of parents twice last week at school uniform shop Bibi & Baba in Far East Shopping Centre, said the store's business development manager Nick Koh.
"The police told us to limit the number of people queueing right outside the shop to 20, by moving the rest to wait outside the mall," he said.
"They also advised us to ensure that groups of customers are at least 1m apart from one another."
One possible factor that contributed to the queues was that about half of the secondary schools that Bibi & Baba supplies uniforms to did not allow the store to sell them in the schools' premises due to Covid-19 concerns, said Mr Koh.
When ST visited Bibi & Baba in Far East Shopping Centre on Tuesday afternoon, things were more orderly, with 20 people waiting outside the shop in designated boxes and another 30 waiting outside the mall in two queues.
Staff also came out of the shop periodically to ensure people were adhering to safe distancing rules.
Mrs Tanushree Saha, a 41-year-old architect, waited in line for 30 minutes with her Primary 6 daughter who had outgrown her uniform.
"I came down because I wanted to see whether the uniform fits her. I don't want to order online and have to exchange if the size is wrong.
"I felt assured because there were Covid-19 measures in place and everyone was cautious," she said.
The situation also varies from store to store and depends on the arrangements between schools and the shops.
Over at United Uniforms' outlet in Toa Payoh, there were roughly 40 people in three separate queues - for payment, measurements and the collection of orders.
When ST visited at noon, customers in the queue kept a 1m distance from one another.
An employee of another uniform shop in the Ang Mo Kio, which declined to be named, said the crowd size at its retail shop did not appear too different from last year.
"Demand is around the same as previous years. But for parents who ordered online, we will deliver them to schools to be distributed by the teachers," he said.