SINGAPORE - Just a week after Covid-19 restrictions on dining at eateries were eased, news of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus has consumers adjusting plans and restaurants worried.
The new strain, with 32 mutations in the spike protein - about double that of the dominant Delta strain - was first detected in South Africa on Nov 11.
Mr Bryan Ong, 32, had initially planned to celebrate his parents' birthday and wedding anniversary separately in mid-December.
But on learning about the new variant, he told The Straits Times he has decided to hold one event to mark both occasions, "probably at a restaurant at one of the bigger hotels", within the next two weeks. The celebration will include his parents and his younger brother, 30.
Said the investment counsellor: "Based on experience with previous outbreaks, we know it takes some time for the contagion... to (spread), so we are actually taking this 'window of opportunity' to run errands like buying medication... or the birthday dinner before there is a possible tightening of restrictions again."
Data engineer Christine Feng, 23, had planned to catch up with friends in groups of three over meals.
But Ms Feng, who has not made any reservations yet, said she may reschedule the meals to ensure that only two people meet at a time, in case restrictions are tightened.
"I might make separate plans with my friends, even though we usually dine out together."
Undergraduate Arnav Guliani, 19, said his family has cancelled plans to dine outside in December. They will host family friends at their home or visit their friends' homes instead.
His family will also try to avoid crowds at malls and markets by visiting the places during off-peak hours.
"We are sticking with the same precautions (we took during the heightened alert phase) as we fear Omicron might be a risk."
Some food and beverage (F&B) establishments here told ST that they have yet to see any changes to reservations.
Since Nov 22, rules have been eased to allow up to five vaccinated people from different households to dine out together.
Mr Jerry Singh, chief executive of restaurant chain The Singapura Club, said: "We've sensed anxiety among our patrons when the news broke over the weekend...
"But there has not been an immediate knee-jerk reaction. I suppose time will tell."
He added that he also sensed some fatigue over the many changes in Covid-19 rules among diners, especially after two months of dining restrictions.
No Signboard Holdings chairman and chief executive Sam Lim also said more time is needed to gauge the impact of the Omicron variant on Singapore's dining scene.
Mr Lim said: "There are customers talking about Omicron. But Singapore has opened up for only about a week, and people now want to go out with their family and friends."
He added that he has not seen any cancellations, and although reservations for the next three days have been slightly lower, it is not clear if it is because of the new variant.
Mr Romy Sastranegara, general manager of Rumours Beach Club in Sentosa, said the club has not had any sudden cancellations or changes in reservations.
He said: "Our reservations have been going up towards the weekend. I guess the school holidays are also helping our bookings in general."
But F&B operators are worried that the emergence of the new variant may trigger fresh curbs.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 28) said that Singapore is watching the variant very closely, and may be forced to roll back the easing of safety measures.
Mr Raymond Ng, managing director of EN Group, which runs a chain of Japanese restaurants including Chura Sushi Bar, En Dining and Aburi-EN, said the new variant is indeed a concern.
But he said the group's eateries have not seen any sudden changes in reservations and bookings are still coming in for the next few weeks.
He added: "The easing of regulations to allow (up to) five people to dine (at one table) helped us a lot. But now with the new variant, we are worried that the rules may be tightened again."
Mr Sastranegara said he is "hoping for the best". "Our business has been on a roller coaster since the pandemic. We just hope we are not going back and having to start all over again."