Singaporean

COVID-19: Why S'pore's Unsung Heroes Are The Hardest-Hit Groups Due To 'Circuit Breaker'

While many of us are working from home due to the ‘circuit breaker’ (which has been extended for another four weeks), we still have our jobs intact and our problems each day were kept to debating what to eat for lunch and dinner, dealing with distractions from family members, or an occasional hiccup with the Internet connection.

However, there are many underprivileged Singaporeans who are not as lucky. Some of them have lost their jobs, forced to go on no-pay leave and are at risk of getting laid off due to their companies closing down or experiencing a drastic drop in revenue.

As you are reading this, probably working in the comfort of your own home, there are many low-income individuals and families who are struggling to buy essential items and put food on the table.

Here are five groups of individuals who are bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 situation.

1. Elderly Folks

singapore elderly

Ever since the ‘circuit breaker’ measures kicked in, Singaporeans have avoided outdoors in a bid to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Bustling areas like Orchard Road and the CBD are now ghost towns, and MRT stations that used to see throngs of commuters are now quite empty.

What will happen to the tissue-selling elderlies who peddle 3-for-$1 tissue packets to commuters at MRT stations and diners at hawker centres?

An uncle was recently spotted selling tissue paper at Bugis MRT station. He regularly stations himself at the corner of the MRT exit towards Bugis Junction on a typical week.

With the drop in footfall not only at MRT stations but also everywhere else, there is no doubt that the tissue-selling and ice-cream cart uncles and aunties are facing an income crisis.

With the work-from-home enforcement and the dining-in ban, there is technically no need to clean offices or clear plates at F&B establishments. This means cleaners are at risk of getting laid off or a furlough, which results in a loss of income.

There’s one thing in common among these jobs: they are mostly held by elderly folks.

For seniors holding frontline jobs such as cashiers and security guards, they continue to face risk of coming into contact with Covid-19.

This is worrying because the elderly are the most susceptible to contracting and dying from Covid-19. So far, all 11 Covid-19 deaths recorded in Singapore are of elderly people aged 64 and above.

2. ‘Mama Shops’ And Provision Store Owners

While Singaporeans flocked to major supermarkets such as FairPrice, Cold Storage and Giant to stock up on essentials, we forget that the smaller-scale stores need our support too.

Although ‘mama shops’ and provision store owners are still seen as an “essential service” and are allowed to operate, they are seeing a lower footfall compared to the supermarket giants.

One netizen named Chen Xing sympathised with their plight and took to Facebook to plead for Singaporeans to turn away from larger supermarket chains, and consider supporting the struggling, smaller and self-owned businesses instead.

Fortunately, it seems that people are opting to get their essentials from the smaller shops when the queues at supermarkets are too long and provision stores are seeing their sales pick up.

3. Employees of Non-Essential Workplaces

malaysians
Image Credit: The Star Online

The closure of non-essential workplaces cannot have come at a worse time for Malaysian workers in Singapore.

Due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) implemented by Malaysia on March 18, many Malaysians have chosen to stay in Singapore to keep their jobs.

There are at least 45,000 Malaysians working in Singapore and many returned as non-essential businesses shut down during ‘circuit breaker’ measures in force since April 7.

While many were able to find a temporary place to stay thanks to the help from the Government and Samaritans, they are separated from their family members. Moreover, the MCO has been extended multiple times and there’s a low possibility that it will be lifted anytime soon.

Employees (including non-Malaysians) of non-essential workplaces such as entertainment venues may also find themselves out of jobs in the situation where their companies have closed down because they are not allowed to operate.

4. Low-wage Workers

cleaner singapore
Image Credit: Ministry of Manpower

Low-wage workers support a huge part of the economy, particularly those in the frontline of the COVID-19 response such as grocery packers, cleaners, hawkers and security guards. These are workers who earn up to S$1,400 every month.

While most of us stay at home to protect ourselves, these “essential service” workers are more exposed to the virus. Lower-income families may experience financial difficulties because a family member contracted the virus or has to serve quarantine, stay-home notice or a mandatory leave of absence.

Coupled with the uncertainty, this group of people may find themselves in a state of limbo if their employers are cutting their salaries or are late on salary payments.

To add on, a significant portion of these low-income workers comprise of the elderly, which substantiates our first point.

5. Contract Workers And Freelancers

foreign worker singapore
Image Credit: The Malaysian Insider

In times of crisis, contractual workers will most likely be the first to be let go by employers. Freelancers may also see their projects end abruptly.

In 2018, 202,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents were employed on term contracts, making up 11.3 per cent of the resident workforce (Singaporeans and PRs) – a rate that has mostly held steady in the last 10 years.

There were 211,000 residents who did freelance work as a regular form of employment last year, slightly more than the 210,800 who did so in 2018. This makes up 8.8 per cent of the resident workforce, down from 9.3 per cent in 2018.

These two groups of workers make up a significant portion of the workforce and employers are more willing to let go of temporary employees because they don’t have a commitment to them.

How The Less Privileged Can Find Financial And Mental Support

Distressed Singaporeans or PRs can get the help they need, if they know where to go.

For example, individuals who have lost their jobs or faced an income loss of at least 30 per cent due to Covid-19 may apply for the Temporary Relief Fund.

For other financial aid, you can check out Supportgowhere.gov.sg, which lists all the available support packages in Singapore.

Helplines are also on hand to offer emotional support to any individual who need it such as the 24/7 National Care hotline (6202-6868), which is specially set up during this Covid-19 period.

It operates alongside other specialised service helplines such as Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline (6389-2222) and Samaritans of Singapore (1800-221-4444).

The extended ‘circuit breaker’ by four weeks will most likely see an increase in the number of individuals coming forward for financial help as well as calls to mental health helplines while we experience a fresh bout of worries and anxiety about our health and the economic fallout.

However, as much as we are feeling uncertain and anxious about the future, we must persevere and tide through this difficult and unprecedented period of time together and emerge stronger than before.

Featured Image Credit: Makansutra / Chen Xing on Facebook

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