Selected karaoke outlets may be allowed to reopen without their customers needing to take a Covid-19 swab test as part of a pilot programme, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said.
But these outlets must observe a different set of rules - such as a maximum group size of two and a ban on liquor consumption, an MHA spokesman told The New Paper last week.
On Nov 6 last year, KTV outlets - closed since March 26 - were told that some could reopen under a three-month pilot programme, but that customers must test negative on an antigen rapid test or a polymerase chain reaction test in the 24-hour period before the end of their KTV activity.
The spokesman said MHA and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) had engaged the KTV sector and received feedback seeking separate safe management measures for different types of KTV operations.
The ministries then decided that alternative safe management measures could be imposed on a case-by-case basis to achieve the same public health outcomes.
The spokesman said: "On a case-by-case basis, MTI may approve karaoke outlets' applications to adopt an alternative arrangement for the pilot, where no pre-event testing will be required for the customers, but the group size is limited to two persons.
"In addition, there must not be any liquor sale or consumption at all times within the premises."
KTV outlets applying to be part of the pilot programme can choose between this option or the default requiring customers to undergo Covid-19 testing. The default option allows outlets to accept customers in groups of up to eight and serve alcohol until 10.30pm.
No changes will be allowed once an outlet receives approval for the option it chose. The pilot scheme is expected to start this month.
Welcoming the move, Miss Lim Ming Zhen, 26, said she would go to a KTV outlet only if she did not need to take a swab test.
The financial consultant, who used to frequent KTV outlets once or twice a week, added: "I miss singing karaoke. It is a good social activity even if it's just between two people."
Mr Caine Poon, a managing partner in Cash Studio Family Karaoke, said his obvious choice for the pilot scheme would be the no-testing option as the cost of the swab test would deter customers.
Expressing his concerns about the uncertain future of the KTV sector amid the pandemic, he said he has already had to close one outlet in the last 10 months.
He also said he has yet to recoup the cost of renovating some of the group's other six outlets over the last two to three years. And three of the outlets that pivoted to food and beverage (F&B) have had little success.
In assessing the pilot scheme and before it will consider further resumption of nightlife activities, the Government must be satisfied that the safe management measures can adequately mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission and that the industry is able to implement these measures effectively and consistently, said the MHA spokesman.
Mr Frank Per, who owns Sing My Song Family Karaoke, also tried pivoting his business to F&B but found that switching sectors overnight is not feasible.
"Morale has been very low. F&B is competitive and with our limited experience, the odds are very much stacked against us," he said.
Mr Per, who is also treasurer of the Singapore Entertainment Affiliation which represents KTV operators, said the future will be bleak for most outlets that are still paying rent and salaries if they are not able to reopen soon.
"While the pilot programme is a small step in the right direction, we are not sure what the future holds," he said.
"Nobody expected the closure to last for so long, and it has left many of the karaoke operators worried. If it continues like this, several more outlets will close down."