Around 20 of 400 pivoted nightspots allowed to reopen since July closure after spike in Covid-19 cases

Bar Nkd in Club Street is one of the establishments allowed to open their doors again.
Bar Nkd in Club Street is one of the establishments allowed to open their doors again.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - To meet the stringent requirements to reopen its venue after a month of being closed, Bar Nkd in Club Street had to spend $2,000 and make several cosmetic changes to the space.

This included installing two new closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to cover more areas inside, and removing window panels so that the interiors could be seen from outside.

After the first round of inspection by the authorities, it was told almost three weeks later to remove the sound system and television sets as well.

The bar, which reopened on Sept 7, is one of only around 20 pivoted nightlife establishments allowed to open their doors again since a two-week shutdown of more than 400 such nightspots in July.

They were ordered to close to stem the spread of Covid-19 after a surge in cases at KTV lounges and clubs.

After the suspension was lifted on July 30, converted outlets were allowed to resume operations only if they passed inspections and received a written approval.

New safe management measures (SMMs) that they have to adhere to include extensive CCTV coverage of the outlet and routine seven-day Covid-19 testing for employees.

Blackout windows or opaque doors are also not allowed along the perimeter of the outlet, with the interior to be made clearly visible to people outside.

All private rooms must also be locked, and public entertainment equipment such as pool tables and karaoke machines must be moved out of sight of patrons.

TSH Corporation, which runs whisky bar Quaich Bar at Grand Copthorne Waterfront and The Other Room at Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel, had different experiences in getting its outlets reopened.

While Quaich Bar passed inspections quickly and was allowed to reopen on Aug 28, The Other Room needed to have three new higher-resolution CCTV cameras installed at a cost of $2,000.

The venue, which has two fire-rated doors as a safety requirement of being a tenant in the hotel, had to get special dispensation from the authorities to retain them.

"Initially, we failed the requirements because we don't have clear doors, but the authorities were understanding," said TSH Corporation's director of human resources, Mr New Kheng Tiong, 47.

Though the cocktail bar is meant to be a hidden-away speakeasy, it now keeps the doors open to meet the SMM requirements. It reopened on Sept 2.

Others that have reopened are HaveFun Karaoke, which had pivoted to food and beverage and cinema operations. It reopened from Aug 5.

HaveFun Karaoke's outlet at E!Avenue at Downtown East. PHOTO: ST FILE

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said the overall processing time of each application varies from outlet to outlet.

They said in a joint statement: "This is due to several factors, such as the operator's ability to comply with the additional SMMs and provide supporting documents. Inspections can only take place once operators are ready."

While they are "relieved and glad" to be able to reopen, Ms Wendy Ng, 43, director of the Club 95 group that runs Bar Nkd, said the delays in inspections and not being able to open until recently had added to issues like rental and staff costs.

"When we had not heard back after weeks, we were already discussing if we should give up the business... It's been an extremely frustrating experience," said Ms Ng.

In response to queries from ST, the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) said many nightlife operators have been submitting requests to the relevant authorities for site inspections.

"Many have incurred additional costs to ensure compliance to the additional requirements such as the installation of CCTVs and ensuring clear visible interiors of outlets," said the SNBA spokesman.

"Most operators have given us feedback that the inspections are not immediate and may take more than one round prior to the issuing of a conditional permit, thus adding pressure to their accumulating operating costs."

Since the second phase two (heightened alert) from July 22 to Aug 18, SNBA has been receiving about 70 per cent more inquiries from operators looking to exit the industry.

MTI and MSE said "the further reopening of activities, including the nightlife sector, will continue to be done in a gradual and calibrated manner which safeguards public health".