S'pore businesses gear up for more vaccination-differentiated rules, but some already feel the pinch

Currently, unvaccinated individuals cannot dine out, go to shopping malls or visit attractions. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - One event organiser had to double the strength of the operations team to ensure visitors' compliance with vaccination-differentiated measures at a recent Mice event.

The additional cost is the new normal for some businesses in recent months, and will likely hit more firms as Covid-19 safe management protocols are rolled out to more settings and venues from Feb 1 next year.

Under such measures, attendees have to be fully vaccinated to enter the venue.

Among the most affected is the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) industry, which after a two-year lull, saw a spate of large-scale events in November and December.

"Recruiting additional headcount for staff, training and organising them to ensure that the vaccination-differentiated measures would be adhered to added costs and time to our operations," said Mr Edward Liu, managing director of Conference & Exhibition Management Services (Cems), which organised three events in three weeks.

"We also had to double the number of people in the operations team."

The events - Restaurant Asia 2021, Architecture & Building Services 2021 and Singapore International Jewellery Expo 2021 - were held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre between Nov 18 and Dec 5.

The largest of the three events, the jewellery expo, was at maximum capacity with 4,000 visitors over four days from Dec 2 to Dec 5.

"As our shows were trailblazer events, the vaccination-differentiated measures were new to us, our exhibitors and also the visitors," said Mr Liu.

The higher costs came from having to hire more workers, deep-clean the conference halls between sessions of visitors, provide identification bands to separate cohorts of visitors, and set up section dividers.

Similarly, Constellar, the organiser of Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific 2021 at the Singapore Expo, said the extra protocols added about 10 per cent to operation costs.

The event from Nov 22 to 24 had around 3,600 visitors, and was one of the pilot ones under new protocols announced by the Ministry of Health in November. Other than being fully vaccinated, attendees also had to undergo pre-event testing.

Constellar chief executive officer Jean-François Quentin said: "This is the new normal and we have to be prepared for our event business models to factor in the cost of implementing additional health and safety protocols for participants to engage effectively in a safe manner."

Cems' Mr Liu noted that the higher costs have a "large impact on Mice events, especially in lean times".

The added expense will be something that a growing number of businesses will have to grapple with, given that the implementation of vaccination-differentiated measures is expanding.

Currently, unvaccinated individuals cannot dine out, go to shopping malls or visit attractions.

From Feb 1, the ban will include all indoor sports facilities, even those which are privately owned; institutes of higher learning; and leisure stays in hotels, hostels and serviced apartments. 

All events, even those with fewer than 50 attendees, will be subject to these requirements. These include funeral memorial services and work-related events.

The Straits Times understands that Sport Singapore will be releasing details on the implementation of vaccination-differentiated measures at its indoor facilities soon.

Hotels, which already conduct checks at the door, are also fine-tuning procedures ahead of the new measures.

Since Dec 1, people above 12 years of age seeking to enter National Library Board (NLB) libraries and participate in selected activities at community clubs must be fully inoculated.

Slightly over two weeks into the roll-out of vaccination-differentiated measures across the 27 public libraries, the National Library and the National Archives of Singapore, implementation has been smooth, said an NLB spokesman.

The spokesman added: "Visitors have been cooperative in showing their proof of vaccination through their TraceTogether app, or scanning their token or phone with the TraceTogether app, similar to what is done to enter malls. These checks are carried out by existing staff at the libraries and archives."

However, experts like Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, question the effectiveness of vaccination-differentiated measures, given the smaller number of people who are not inoculated.

"Earlier in the Delta wave, (such measures) were actually quite effective in reducing transmission risk among the unvaccinated and thus lowering the number of severe illnesses.

"Now, though, there are very small proportions of people who are unvaccinated, so the benefit is probably much less and it's unclear, to me at least, whether the effort to monitor and enforce compliance with vaccination-differentiated measures is merited," he said.

"This is especially so given that the unvaccinated will have to foot their own Covid-19-related medical bills, so there's already a quite hefty incentive to be vaccinated."

He suggested removing the measures in some settings.

"Rather than just expanding vaccination-differentiated measures, perhaps we can consider the cost-effectiveness of compliance in different settings and drop those where the benefit isn't warranted, say, in malls."

However, in the light of new variants such as Omicron surfacing, the Government has stressed that full vaccination status will be considered a "three-dose regime" that includes the booster shot.

Policies will be geared towards this, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung during a Covid-19 press conference on Tuesday (Dec 14).

"With waning protection, full vaccination status cannot last perpetually. So take our boosters, and our full vaccination status will be extended, and we will be able to access various amenities under (vaccination-differentiated measures)," he added.

The new policy on changes to the fully vaccinated status will be announced by the end of this year or early next year, he said.


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