As a child, she helped her mother in the kitchen, dotting pineapple tarts with dough flourishes and putting peanuts in cookies, for the modest business her mother ran on top of her job as a typist.
It boosted the family’s income, especially after her late father lost his job, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) told Parliament yesterday, noting that for many who had lost their jobs in the Covid-19 pandemic, such home-based businesses (HBBs) may be a necessary – or only – source of income.
She called for an adjournment motion to discuss the issue of public concern at the end of yesterday’s parliamentary sitting.
Although home-based food and beverage businesses will be allowed to resume on May 12, Dr Intan questioned why they were banned in the first place on April 25, only to have the authorities “backpedal” a week later on May 2.
She said the disruption caused some HBB owners to lose their hard-earned money, as refunds had to be made and raw ingredients wasted.
Labour MP Zainal Sapari also noted that businesses ran into legal difficulties when they were unable to fulfil orders because of the ban.
He added that such legal fees are expensive, and encouraged these businesses and their customers to come to an amicable agreement.
Dr Intan suggested measures to help home-based businesses stay in operation while ensuring safe social distancing, such as appointing specific third-party delivery companies for HBBs to use, to facilitate contact tracing; mandatory temperature-taking and logging for home cooks whose health may be of concern; and even government co-funding for central kitchens that HBB owners can use.
In response to questions from Dr Intan and Mr Zainal, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said that this month, self-employed HBB owners can apply for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs).
If they do not qualify for Sirs, but are salaried employees who lost their jobs, suffered pay cuts or were put on no-pay leave, they can apply for the Covid-19 Support Grant, which will provide a monthly cash grant of up to $800 for three months, along with job and training support.
Mr Masagos said: “The Covid crisis is not about preserving livelihoods alone.
“The crisis has caused many governments… to make tough choices between preserving livelihood and preserving life itself.”
He said the nature of HBBs made them inherently risky, as they are generally informal and dispersed, making it more difficult to enforce safe distancing.
He said: “This poses a real risk, when people move and interact in residential estates, as goods are collected and delivered. It takes just one infected person to start a cluster. Lives, especially of our elderly, are at stake, and they can be right in the homes of these HBB operations.”
Mr Masagos noted that good compliance with strict distancing measures by everyone has borne results, with cases declining, allowing for some relaxation of measures from May 12. Delivery or collection of food and confectionery from HBBs will be allowed, though not other kinds of retail businesses.
As interaction will increase after the ban lifts, businesses, delivery workers and customers will be required to comply with a set of safe distancing measures, which include making delivery and collection contactless, as well as installing TraceTogether, a contact-tracing application.
Mr Masagos urged HBBs that are still suspended to be patient, as restrictions can only be removed gradually and carefully.