Hawker centre dining is truly an integral part of Singapore’s culture. As a natural extension of this culture, hawker centres have become time-tested institutions that serve as important places for community bonding.
Safeguarding Our Hawkers and the Public
NEA played a key role in the nation’s fight against COVID-19 by implementing various safe management measures (SMMs) to safeguard hawker centres and markets from emerging COVID-19 cases, protect the hawker workforce by nudging them to be vaccinated and tested regularly, and ensure public safety with safe distancing compliance.
Keeping Diners Safe
Continuing the efforts from 2020, we stepped up and strengthened safe distancing measures at hawker centres and markets. These measures included the marking of seats and tables to enable safe distancing among patrons and compliance with the group size limits, deploying Safe Distancing Ambassadors to engage and educate the public on safe distancing measures, and enforcement of SMMs by Safe Distancing Enforcement Officers (SDEOs) at hawker centres and markets.
To facilitate contact tracing of COVID-19 cases in the community, temporary fencing was put up at all hawker centres and markets in July 2021, and SafeEntry check-ins were required for access to these premises.
Vaccination-Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS) were introduced at hawker centres in October 2021 to allow dining-in by vaccinated persons, while non-vaccinated persons were restricted to take-aways. VDS was further tightened with entry checks at all hawker centres, where visitors had to show their vaccination status before entering the premises. SDEOs were also deployed to conduct checks and take enforcement action against non-compliant patrons.
NEA formed a command-and-control unit to strategise deployments, as well as manage and provide back-office support to ground personnel and outsourced partners. This ensured the smooth operation and execution of the various COVID-19 SMMs and access checks at all hawker centres and markets.
Protecting our Hawkers
To protect our stakeholders in hawker centres and markets, all stallholders, stall assistants and workers at the centres were required to undergo regular testing as part of the Fast and Easy Testing-Rostered Routine Testing. Stepping up measures in October 2021, unvaccinated individuals were required to be tested twice a week under the Vaccinate or Regular Testing regime. The testing regimes, together with our guidelines on cleaning and disinfection operations for centres exposed to COVID-19 cases, helped to ringfence emerging cases and minimise the risk of transmission. In addition, centres with an upward trend of cases were placed on short-term voluntary closure for deep cleaning and disinfection.
In January 2022, Singapore introduced the Workforce Vaccination Measures (WVM), where only vaccinated individuals were allowed to return to operate the stalls. NEA monitored the compliance of WVM and conducted regular engagements with stakeholders, with reminders to go for vaccination and testing.
Inculcating a Tray and Crockery Return Culture
In 2021, NEA launched the Clean Tables campaign to galvanise individuals and the community to do their part in keeping public dining places clean and hygienic. In May 2021, we announced that diners will be required to return their used trays, crockery, and clear the litter after their meals from 1 June 2021 at hawker centres. The national Tray and Crockery Return Rate has since seen an increase from an average of 33 per cent prior to the launch of the campaign, to the current average of 88 per cent across hawker centres in Singapore.
Phase 1 of the campaign saw three months of intensive educational efforts to encourage users to be gracious to the next diner by keeping their tables clean. The campaign covered a variety of touchpoints including mass media, outdoor advertising and social media channels. It was supported with on-ground engagement by various outreach partners, government agencies, and relevant NGOs. SG Clean Ambassadors were also deployed at hawker centres to educate and nudge patrons to return their used trays and crockery, and to bin their litter after dining.
Phase 2 involved NEA taking a stronger stance against errant diners. Enforcement officers would first advise diners to clear their used trays, crockery and litter, before taking enforcement action against those who refused to comply.
NEA also introduced several initiatives to make it easier for diners to return their used trays and crockery:
- Installation of additional racks to support the tray and crockery return efforts
- Provision of mobile trolleys to create additional tray and crockery return points when required
- Provision of additional new trays to facilitate the return of used crockery
- Installation of additional netting at racks where applicable, to mitigate bird nuisance
To increase cleaning efficiency, we developed a streamlined table-cleaning workflow for hawker centres in consultation with the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, cleaning companies and cleaners. This resulted in a more sustainable workflow for cleaners who are generally older, by re-organising the deployment of cleaners into two teams – one team would focus on cleaning and sanitising tables, while the other team stationed at the return points would clear the used trays and crockery returned by patrons.
NEA implemented the Clean Tables Support Scheme on 1 May 2021 to inculcate a tray return culture beyond our hawker centres. Under this voluntary co-funding scheme, coffeeshop and food court operators and owners can apply for 50 per cent co-funding, capped at $2,500 per premises, to defray the costs of purchasing trays, as well as putting in place tray and crockery return facilities.
Supporting Hawkers Through the Pandemic
To help hawkers tide through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government provided various COVID-19 relief measures to stallholders in 2020 and 2021. These included 10 months of rental waivers and six months of subsidies for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services, and a one-off cash payout of $500 through the Market and Hawker Centre Relief Fund.
In early 2022, the Government announced the Small Business Recovery Grant to support small and medium enterprises that have been most affected by the COVID-19 restrictions, including hawker centre and market stallholders licensed by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). Eligible stallholders have received the payouts in batches from June 2022.
To help hawkers pivot their businesses and embrace digital sales channels, various stakeholders, such as hawkers, community groups and food delivery platforms, came together to form the ‘SG Together Alliance for Action – Online Ordering For Hawkers’ initiative. As an added incentive, hawkers who onboarded online food delivery platforms could claim a one-time assistance of $500 to defray their onboarding costs by December 2021.
NEA’s mission is to develop and manage hawker centres as vibrant communal spaces, offering a variety of affordable cooked food options in a clean and safe environment, and ensure a sustainable hawker trade.
Our short-term focus is to take steps to strengthen the resilience of our hawker centres and markets against future public health threats. We seek to ensure business continuity at our hawker centres by taking the appropriate health and hygiene measures, and creating a clean and hygienic environment for hawkers and patrons.
NEA is also focused on developing new hawker centres and rejuvenating existing centres, enhancing the vibrancy and productivity of hawker centres, and ensuring the sustainability of the hawker trade. With the successful inscription of Hawker Culture on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, these efforts will go towards promoting and sustaining a vibrant Hawker Culture in the long term.
Growing the Hawker Centre Presence
With more than 100 hawker centres in Singapore, patrons have access to a good mix of affordable cooked food options. These include seven new hawker centres at Bukit Panjang, Hougang (Ci Yuan), Woodlands (Kampung Admiralty), Jurong West, Tampines (Our Tampines Hub), Pasir Ris Central and Yishun Park. Other new hawker centres that have been announced are located at Sembawang (Bukit Canberra), Bidadari (Woodleigh Village), Bukit Batok West, Bukit Panjang North (Senja), Sengkang (Fernvale, Buangkok and Anchorvale Village), Punggol (One Punggol and Punggol Digital District) and Choa Chu Kang (Yew Tee and Town Centre).