Coronavirus: CNY celebration by singing group led to second-largest cluster here

200 people attended Feb 15 dinner at Safra Jurong, which also hosted another event with 400 guests

Temperature screening being carried out at Safra Jurong on Friday. An event at Safra Jurong has been linked to 21 Covid-19 cases. It is understood that not all the patients from the cluster had attended the event.
Temperature screening being carried out at Safra Jurong on Friday. An event at Safra Jurong has been linked to 21 Covid-19 cases. It is understood that not all the patients from the cluster had attended the event. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The Feb 15 event at Safra Jurong, which has been linked to 21 Covid-19 cases as of last night, was a Chinese New Year celebration attended by members of a Hokkien singing group.

According to the event's emcee, about 200 people were at the dinner, and the night featured song-and-dance performances and a lohei tossing segment.

The emcee, who goes by the stage name Yige, told The Sunday Times yesterday that the event was "very lively, very happy".

It was organised by Hokkien music teacher Liang Fengyi.

The function was at the Joy Garden Restaurant's ballroom, a hotel-style hall that can take 120 tables, according to its website.

Yige - who did not want to reveal his name other than say he is Mr Ong - said there was a similar dinner in another part of the ballroom on the night of Feb 15.

This was organised by Hokkien and Cantonese singing coach Gao Fei, and Yige estimated there were 400 people at that celebration.

"I am quite sure there were interactions between the guests at both events because they are from the same dialect singing community," he said in Mandarin.

"Many of the guests were students of both of these teachers, so some of them would have been friends and would have met up to catch up or take photographs."

Yige, 58, said that since news of the first confirmed case from Safra Jurong on March 5, he has stayed home under self-quarantine.

"I am well and healthy but I think this is the right thing to do," he said.

He added that because of the coronavirus outbreak, he made sure that there was disinfectant to clean the microphones after every use on Feb 15.

He had also advised guests to use disposable chopsticks and refrain from shaking hands that night, and had asked the restaurant to keep one door of the room open for better ventilation.

"I am very cautious about these things and I thought we could have a good event with no problems," he said. "Imagine my shock when I found out that the event has become a coronavirus cluster."

A guest at the Gao Fei event told The Sunday Times yesterday that she has not developed symptoms.

The 52-year-old woman, who works part-time in a cleaning company, said her friends who were there are all feeling fine too. "I am not aware of anyone who attended who fell ill," she said in Mandarin.

It is understood that not all the patients from the Safra Jurong cluster had attended the Feb 15 dinner. Some are family members.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) was also not able to confirm yesterday if all cases are linked to just the Liang Fengyi event or included those from the Gao Fei function. Investigations are ongoing.

In a statement after the first cases were confirmed, Safra Jurong said it had imposed mandatory temperature screening after Singapore's disease outbreak response level was raised from yellow to orange last month.

All visitors to the club at Boon Lay Way had cleared temperature checks. "They did not have fever, nor (did they) exhibit any flu-like symptoms. They also did not have any recent travel history to mainland China within the past 14 days of their visit to the club as stated within their declaration," the club had said.

A temperature screening booth at Safra Jurong as seen on March 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The Safra Jurong cluster is the second largest in Singapore after the 32 patients linked to the Grace Assembly of God and Life Church and Missions Singapore cluster.

At a press conference on Friday, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at MOH, said the patients were seated at more than one table and moved around throughout the event.

Some who were infected had continued with their social activities after the dinner and went to work despite having respiratory symptoms, he added.

Yesterday, netizens circulated social media posts stating that the Grace Assembly of God church had held a dinner at Safra Jurong's Joy Garden restaurant on Feb 8, a week before the Hokkien singing function.

When contacted, the church said a function had been planned for Feb 8 but was cancelled after the disease alert level was raised to orange.

A church spokesman added: "Chinese dinners usually involve sharing of food."


Affected CCs and RCs

The cases in the cluster linked to the private dinner function held at Safra Jurong were involved in singing activities and classes conducted at several community clubs (CCs) and residents' committees (RCs).

As a precautionary measure, those activities attended by the confirmed cases will be suspended for 14 days, along with singing classes organised by the People's Association at the affected venues.

The affected CCs and RCs are:

• Bukit Batok CC

• Bukit Panjang CC

• Chua Chu Kang CC

• Jurong Green CC

• Keat Hong CC

• Nanyang CC

• Zhenghua CC

• Ayer Rajah Zone 3 RC

• Bukit Panjang Zone 4 RC

• Bukit Panjang Zone 6 RC

• Bukit Panjang Zone 7 RC

• Hong Kah North Zone 4 RC

• Nanyang Zone 4 RC

• Teck Ghee Zone J RC

• Yew Tee Zone 8 RC

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 08, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: CNY celebration by singing group led to second-largest cluster here. Subscribe