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5 Misconceptions About The COVID-19 Circuit Breaker Announced By PM Lee

Non-essential services will have to cease operations from 7 April 2020: True or False?

On Friday, the Government announced ‘circuit breaker’ measures to reduce the risk of further local transmission of Covid-19. Non-essentials workplaces will be closed and all schools are expected to move to full home-based learning.

For some of us, it is not entirely clear what these restrictions entail. Workplaces closed for a month? No more dining out? Safe to say, such unprecedented measures have caused confusion. But before you rely on hearsay, here are 5 misconceptions of the circuit breaker measures you should know about.

Misconception #1: Non-Essential Work Have To Cease Operations Completely

Not true. Non-essential businesses only need to stop operations at their workplaces. If business activities can still operate via telecommute, operations can continue.

It would hardly be business as usual though. Even e-commerce businesses will be affected, given that there will not be staff available at the warehouse to pack your order. You can still make online purchases from home-based business, such as home bakeries or small jewellery stores.

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Misconception #2: If My Job Scope Is Classified As Non-Essential, I Don’t Have To Work For The Entire Month

Not true. From April 7, most workplaces will close. But you should check with your company what your work arrangement will be. If your duties can be done from home, it is likely that you will be telecommuting instead. Do remember to take your personal belongings with you, as you will not be able to re-enter the office building for the whole of April.

For those who are unable to work from home or at your workplace premises, employers are expected to work out clearly your salary and leave arrangement.

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Misconception #3: Business Owners Cannot Visit Their Business Premises

If you are the owner of a non-essential business, you can still go to your business location to take care of crucial tasks that cannot be done remotely or to retrieve necessary materials or documents. However, your employees are not permitted to do the same.

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Misconception #4: Under All Circumstances, Those Performing Non-Essential Services Are Not allowed To Return To Their Business Premises

Not true. Companies can request for a time-limited exemption with this form to maintain a small workplace at your workplace premises for safety and housekeeping purposes. You can only do so for short periods of time. And the government defines short periods of time as less than a day.

So, you should only apply if it is critical. The total number of employees activated must not exceed 10, or 25% of total number of employees in company, whichever is lower.

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Misconception #5: If My Operations Fall Under Essential Services, I Don’t Need To Get My Employees To Work From Home

Not true. All activities that can take place through telecommuting must still be done from home. Businesses are expected to work with minimum staff on premises and safe distancing measures must be in place. This includes reducing the need for and duration of physical interaction, staggering work hours, postponing all group events, and implementing shift work and/or split team arrangements. Operations will have to suspend if any employees are infected.

For instance, for hotels that support stay-home notices and accommodation needs of those affected by travel restrictions, the hotel has to minimise on-site staff. Those who are able to perform their roles remotely, such as finance or HR, must work from home.

For reference, here is a list of essential services defined by the Government:

  • Health and social services (e.g. hospitals, polyclinics, urgent dental service)
  • Food (e.g. F&B outlets for takeaway and delivery only, food supply, caterers, food delivery services)
  • Energy (e.g. electricity, gas, petrol kiosks)
  • Water, waste, environment (e.g. waste collection & disposal, funeral services, pest control)
  • Transportation and storage (e.g. air traffic control, shipping, traffic and road operation)
  • Information and communications (e.g. telecommunications, postal services, newspapers, cybersecurity, online payments, social media & messaging platforms)
  • Defence and security
  • Construction facilities, management and critical public infrastructure
  • Manufacturing and distribution (Companies involved in epidemic control, provision of lift and escalator maintenance, landscaping for public safety)
  • Banking and finance
  • Others (hair salons for basic haircuts, opticians, plumbers, electricians, hardware stores, repair of consumer electronics and household appliances)

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