Singapore shutdown starts with stimulus targeting food deliveries

Linda J. Dodson

SINGAPORE — As Asian countries roll out economic relief measures for businesses and households hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore has targeted food delivery services in a bid to help restaurants survive this period in which most people are working from home.

On Tuesday, Singapore began four weeks of heightened restraint on normal life, with most workplaces and schools closed and people required to stay home as much as possible. The nationwide shutdown is slated to last until May 4.

While few people were on the streets, food delivery drivers were still exceptionally busy, including those working for Deliveroo, Foodpanda and GrabFood — the country’s three major players. Motorcycles and bicycles with a food container were frequently zipping about the city. Eateries have to stop dine-in services, but some have signs on display informing customers that delivery and take-out are still available.

In what it is calling a “Food Delivery Booster Package,” Singapore’s government also on Tuesday started to help restaurants sell their produce via delivery platforms, by funding 5% of the commission fees charged by the three major food delivery platforms during the four-week period of restrictions.

The booster package is available for restaurants that already have a presence on the platforms and for those that have newly joined. If the current commission rate is 30%, the cost payable to the participating food delivery platforms will be reduced to 25%.

The three platforms will directly offset the grant support from their fees, which will help ease the cashflow of participating businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Enterprise Singapore agency.

Deliveroo has seen more than 600 new restaurants joining its platform since late January, the Straits Times newspaper reported on Sunday. GrabFood operator Grab declined to comment on how many outlets had joined recently, but demand appears to be rising across the main delivery platforms.

“The demand for food delivery is expected to increase significantly, by as much as two to three times compared with previous months,” Ted Tan, Enterprise Singapore’s deputy chief executive, said in a statement. “This is also a good time for businesses to optimize their business models for online sales.”

Prior to the food delivery booster package, Singapore was already getting prepared for a rise in demand for food deliveries. In late March, the transport ministry allowed taxi and ride-hailing companies to participate in delivery services, under a temporary relaxation of regulation on the sector that will be effective until the end of June.

“We are observing a dip in the fulfillment rates for online food deliveries. The demand for home delivery will only increase in the upcoming weeks as we push for more people to work from home,” said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a Facebook post.

He said the government had been concerned about such services affecting traditional passenger services, and contributing to traffic jams.”But this is an unusual time,” he said, “with reduced demand for [taxis and ride-hailing services] and less traffic on the road.”

Singapore’s stimulus package is worth about $60 billion Singapore dollars ($42 billion), or 12% of its gross domestic product. Governments across the region, from Japan to Malaysia, have rolled out stimulus packages of similar size.

As of Monday, Singapore had reported 1,375 cases of COVID-19 infection, with six deaths.

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