COVID-19 in Singapore: Extension of ‘Circuit Breaker’ Measures, More Affordable SME Loans, R&D Updates

April 22, 2020

Recent updates from Singapore amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic include elevated restrictions on what businesses are considered essential, a new facility for more affordable loans for small and medium-sized enterprises, and new research and development work.

The Singapore prime minister announced on 21 April the extension of the elevated set of measures to significantly reduce movements and interactions in public and private places— “circuit breaker” measures—to preempt the spread of COVID-19 in the local community.

The circuit breaker period that was previously in place until 4 May will be extended by another four weeks through 1 June 2020, and the list of essential services has been tightened.

Tightening of the List of Essential Services

From 21 April, the operation of less critical services will be suspended.

  • Standalone food and beverage (F&B) outlets that only sell beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries (e.g., sweets, toffees), or desserts will be required to close their outlets.
  • All other F&B outlets that sell meals can continue to remain open for takeaway and delivery services only.
  • Shops providing hairdressing and barber services will be required to close.

From 21 April, additional restrictions will be placed on selected consumer-facing businesses to further reduce customer interactions.

  • Optician shops can operate by appointment only; walk-in customers are no longer accepted.
  • Pet supply stores and retail laundry services must close their physical stores, but are permitted to provide online sales and delivery.

The number of businesses allowed to operate at their work premises will also be reduced, especially businesses that are less critical to daily living or to maintaining essential supply chains. Some businesses that are currently permitted to operate at their work premises will be required to suspend their onsite activities. See the updated list of essential services that are allowed to continue operating.

The affected businesses will be notified by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), and will have 24 hours upon notification to wind down their business operations completely.

Additional Measures for Workplaces That Remain Open

Businesses allowed to continue operating must register their workers who are required to work onsite. The number of workers permitted will be reduced to the minimum needed.

Employers must put in place effective measures to avoid transmission of COVID-19 at and across workplace premises, including the following:

  • Not allowing teams working in different locations to interact physically with one another.
  • Implementing safe distancing measures at every workplace premises by reducing the need for and duration of physical interactions, staggering working hours, postponing all group events, and implementing shift work and/or split team arrangements.
  • Ensuring workers wear masks at the workplaces.

All workplaces permitted to work will also be required to use ‘SafeEntry,’ a digital check-in application that logs their workers’ entry into and exit from their workplaces, to ensure contact tracing can be done expeditiously.

Additional Measures for Foreign Workers Living in Dormitories

The Multi-Ministry Taskforce also announced that with effect from 21 April, daily movement of workers in and out of all dormitories (i.e., Purpose Built Dormitories, Factory Converted Dormitories, Construction Temporary Quarters, and Temporary Occupation Licence quarters) will no longer be allowed. In line with the requirement for business that can continue operating at their work premises to register and reduce the number of workers allowed to work onsite to a minimum, workers living in the dormitories who had earlier been allowed to commute to work will no longer be allowed to do so.

Employers should inform affected workers of the new condition. Employers should also ensure that food will be provided to their workers living in the respective living quarters. This can be arranged with the dormitory operators if they are already catering food for the workers. Employers can also make their own arrangements to ensure that food will be delivered to their workers.

The workers must remain in their residences as much as possible to reduce the

risk of transmission. Employers are also required to ensure that their foreign workers have appropriate housing options to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19.

Increased Enforcement at Work Premises

The Singapore government also announced that enforcement agencies will increase the number of inspections of workplace premises that remain open, and will take firm action against noncompliant workplaces. First-time offenders will be issued composition offers of $1,000, and repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court. Businesses will be required to suspend their operations should a cluster of infections arise among their staff working on the premises.

New Facility at Interest Rate of 0.1% to Help Banks and Finance Companies

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on 20 April also launched the MAS SGD Facility for ESG Loans (the Facility), in partnership with Enterprise Singapore (ESG), to lend Singapore dollars at an interest rate of 0.1% per annum for eligible financial institutions, i.e., banks and finance companies participating in the ESG Loan Schemes.

The Facility will help financial institutions to make loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) borrowers more affordable. In pricing SME loans, financial institutions typically take into account their cost of funds, their cost of underwriting, and a credit spread to reflect the risk profile of the borrower.

By providing financial institutions funding at the low interest rate of 0.1% per annum for a two-year tenure, the Facility reduces the financial institutions’ cost of funds for loans made under the ESG Loan Schemes. In turn, the loans to SME borrowers will help SMEs manage their cash flow better amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Research and Development (R&D) Updates

We note that laboratories and research related to COVID-19 are considered essential services and are allowed to continue their operations, provided that employers put in place additional measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, as mentioned above. All other critical and ancillary services contracted by the government for the provision of supporting government functions or for the above-mentioned essential services are also allowed to continue operations.

While experimental facilities not related to COVID-19 will be closed during the circuit breaker period and various institutions have suspended research activities that cannot be conducted through telecommuting, research work related to COVID-19 may continue, provided that strict safe distancing measures and all required precautions are put in place. The work includes research in diagnostics and therapeutics. We note that the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Duke-NUS Medical School researchers continue their research related to COVID-19.

We also note that various companies in the Singapore technology sector have stepped up in various ways to assist with tackling the COVID-19 crisis including, among other things, by developing a rapid test kit, a contact-tracing application, and telemedicine applications.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. We also have launched a resource page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts.


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Wai Ming Yap