Coronavirus outbreak: IMPACT ON SINGAPORE

Schools to pay operators' costs incurred for suspended camps, activities

Schools that were supposed to run camps and other similar programmes in the next few weeks will have to pay outdoor camp operators for the costs already incurred.

The Straits Times reported last Thursday that schools here had suspended at least 108 camps and enrichment programmes and 21 overseas trips in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

That would have meant millions in costs and revenue losses for 19 companies operating these programmes, all of which have schools as their main clients.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Clarence Tang, divisional director of finance and procurement at the Ministry of Education (MOE), said that schools will "work with vendors to reschedule the activities in their contracts, where possible".

In such instances, the schools will pay for costs already incurred by the vendors arising from the rescheduling.

If rescheduling is not possible and contracts have to be terminated, schools will abide by the cancellation terms of the contract, and even if there are no such terms, schools will still pay for costs already incurred, Mr Tang added.

The suspension of camps and communal activities last Wednesday was part of measures taken to minimise large gatherings and was aimed at protecting students and staff from the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, capital of China's Hubei province.

The Outdoor Learning and Adventure Education Association, which represents more than 20 companies, told The Straits Times that losses - including those of revenue - are estimated to be between $2.8 million and $3 million. There are around 40 outdoor adventure operators in total in Singapore.

These camps for primary school pupils and students from secondary schools, junior colleges and universities were scheduled for the next few weeks until the middle of next month.

The Straits Times spoke to camp operators, which welcomed the MOE's directive.

Mr Tony Tan, managing director of Innotrek, which conducts camps and kayaking courses, said 15 local camps, two overseas camps and 45 kayaking courses at his firm were affected.

Two of the camps were cancelled with less than 24 hours' notice, and about 80 per cent of costs - an estimated $36,000 - had already been incurred for each.

Mr Tan said: "If the schools can pay for our costs incurred, it will definitely be a load off our shoulders.

"Of course, we understand the coronavirus situation, and we are all working with our third-party vendors like food caterers to reduce whatever costs we can."

However, he estimated his revenue loss to be about $1.2 million, adding: "If (the coronavirus outbreak) goes on further, we will have to look at other measures."

His 11 full-time staff have already been told to clear their leave or go on no-pay leave starting next week, he said.

For Pivotal Youth, which runs leadership development workshops and camps, 10 to 15 programmes have been affected.

But its general manager Danny Toh said that most were supposed to have been held in the schools, not external venues. So, the costs incurred thus far are "on the low side - about $8,000".

Venue costs are high for most operators as a big deposit or payment in full is typically required, he said.

"Our main costs would be for work that has already been done - designing the programmes and manpower. Many freelancers have already committed their time."

A typical cohort-level camp would require about 16 to 20 freelancers, who would take on roles such as camp group facilitators, said Mr Toh, whose company has 10 full-time staff.

Revenue loss amounts to about $100,000 to $120,000, and schools are unlikely to reschedule the programmes as it will be difficult to find time in the later part of the year, he added.

"Right now, we are doing nothing because nothing is going on in schools," said Mr Toh.