Coronavirus: Nightlife aid measures welcomed, but some Singapore businesses say they are not enough

Some nightlife businesses are worried that the new measures, such as ensuring that customers provide proof of negative Covid-19 tests before entering, will not work after taking costs into account.
Some nightlife businesses are worried that the new measures, such as ensuring that customers provide proof of negative Covid-19 tests before entering, will not work after taking costs into account. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Several nightlife businesses have welcomed the Government's latest initiatives announced on Friday, such as allowing some operators to resume business by next month or January with strict safe management measures in place.

For a start, there is a limit of 25 businesses that can participate in this two- to three-month pilot.

The aid comes as many businesses have been closed for nine months and counting due to Covid-19 concerns.

But other operators are worried that some of the new measures do not make sense for them because of the costs involved.

Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) president Joseph Ong said the industry has been looking out for the measures, and the association has received more than 50 queries on the new moves to help operators switch to another business after Friday's announcement.

"There are also a lot of inquiries on the pilot programme, but the number of businesses that can enter it would be small," he added.

Measures they will need to implement include ensuring that customers wear masks on the dance floor and provide proof of negative Covid-19 tests before entering.

Nightlife joints not in the pilot can get financial support to let them either pivot to other business lines, with a grant of up to $50,000, or exit with a one-off payment of $30,000.

Mr Ong said SNBA will help nightlife businesses with pivoting or exiting. "We will be facilitating the whole process - whether they are members or not - and provide them with the necessary link-ups to see what are the best options for them."

Ms Francesca Way, co-founder of A Phat Cat Collective, which runs retro bars and clubs Nineteen80 and Pinball Wizard, said the pilot "is a perfect way to see how we can work in terms of reopening in a post-Covid-19 world".

She does not think the suggested measures, such as tests and masks on the dance floor, are prohibitive.

"At the end of the day, safety is a priority. The fact is that nightlife as it was before needs to change. Covid-19 has changed the way we socialise, and nightclubs have to adapt to that too," she added.

Zouk Group chief executive Andrew Li said "anything we can do to push ahead in terms of opening up this industry again in a safe manner is definitely welcome".

"Zouk Group will do whatever which is within our power to pave a way for nightlife and entertainment to come back, as it is sorely missed in Singapore," he added.

Flexibility in the new measures was requested by some operators.

For instance, if a business gets financial aid under the nightlife measures, it cannot resume nightlife operations for at least 12 months.

But "businesses should be allowed to choose to revert to their core business, if things remain under control and life goes into whatever the new normal is at the time", said Bollywood club Magic Carpet founder Sanjay Rekhi.

Some nightlife businesses are also worried that the new measures will not work after taking costs into account.

Mr Simon Sim, a committee member of the Singapore Entertainment Affiliation, said the general sentiment among karaoke joints is that the pilot programme is "not workable".

The mandatory Covid-19 test is the main obstacle, as the test's cost might outweigh the price of a karaoke session itself. Unlike cruise ship passengers, who might be willing to shell out extra money to pay for the test to board cruise ships, karaoke customers would feel the pinch more as the sessions are relatively cheaper, he said.

"The pilot is a baby step to reopening, and it's better than not opening at all. But it's not very viable," said Mr Sim, who owns Karaoke Times.

The grants given, while welcome, are also far from sufficient for businesses to exit the industry, as they might not even cover the cost of a month's rental owed to landlords, he added.

"I don't think it helps that much, but it is better than nothing."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.