34 more cases in growing KTV cluster; Covid-19 task force considering extra curbs

Terminal 10 at Clarke Quay is one of the KTV lounges added to the list of KTV outlets where there is likely ongoing transmission of Covid-19.
Terminal 10 at Clarke Quay is one of the clubs added to the list of establishments where there is likely ongoing transmission of Covid-19.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Another 34 cases were added to the growing cluster linked to KTV karaoke lounges on Thursday (July 15), as Singapore braces itself for what could be its biggest active cluster yet outside migrant worker dormitories.

The cluster, which currently stands at 88, could have an impact far beyond just the nightlife industry, with knock-on effects on the wider food and beverage (F&B) scene, as well as the country's re-opening plans.

From Monday (July 12), cases have been progressively identified from visitors to 11 KTV lounges by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

The ministry said it was investigating a group of Vietnamese social hostesses who had frequented these lounges, as well as their close contacts.

Many of these establishments had pivoted to F&B operations in order to reopen, though hostess services have remained banned for more than a year.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said that three such former nightlife operators have had their F&B licences revoked with immediate effect for breaching safe management measures. In addition, 11 outlets and 31 individuals were fined for such breaches.

But the fallout from the KTV cluster could be severe. Medical experts such as Professor Teo Yik Ying expect the number of cases to remain high over the next few days, with visitors to KTV lounges unwilling to step forward to get tested.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force (MTF) on Covid-19, weighed in via a Facebook post on Thursday (July 15).

Mr Wong wrote: "I know many are feeling disappointed and frustrated about the recent Covid-19 cases at KTVs. I feel the same."

"Cases like these demonstrate how, in times of crisis, personal responsibility matters. No man is an island. The choices we make for ourselves are the choices we make for our community."

He also strongly urged those who had been to such pivoted KTV lounges to "do the right thing - get yourself tested, and isolate yourself".

He said that the MTF has also been deliberating on what additional measures to take, and will give an update soon.

Prof Teo, who is dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said:

"Given that contact tracing and surveillance testing will be much harder... this has the potential to expand to become the largest cluster in Singapore, outside the migrant worker dormitories."

The Changi Airport cluster has been the biggest outside dorms so far, having recorded 108 cases before it was closed on June 18.

The growing cluster linked to KTV lounges renews scrutiny on former nightlife operators, 406 of which had received F&B licences as at May 14.

The Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA), which was helping its members pivot, is taking a tough approach to errant outlets.

It wrote to its 330 members on Wednesday night asking them to inform it if they "come across information pertaining to any operator who is non-compliant".

"It is totally unacceptable what these KTVs have done, and they definitely need to be identified and penalised," SNBA president Joseph Ong told The Straits Times.

Police also plan to step up checks on such outlets and enforcement regarding suspected vice-related activities.

"We are hoping the authorities will see this as a specific demographic of egregious operators, and that there are 400 other pivoters who didn't make their mistakes," said Mr Ong.

"I see it impacting a lot of other people if this doesn't go down the right way."