SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 cluster linked to KTV outlets has grown to 120 people since the index case was identified five days ago, and poses a "major setback" to Singapore's reopening, said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday (July 16).
He added that Singapore is not ruling out a further rollback of safe management measures, depending on the situation and the threat it may pose to Singapore's healthcare system.
The multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, which Mr Gan co-chairs with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, announced the tightening of restrictions on Friday in response to the recent spike in cases.
The task force said quick action is needed now to contain the spread of the virus in the community, but that Singapore continues to move towards living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease.
Singapore will tighten its rules on social gatherings from next Monday until Aug 8. This includes limiting dining in at food and beverage (F&B) outlets to two people, down from five people currently.
However, fully vaccinated individuals will continue to be able to dine in groups of up to five at eateries with systems to verify customers' vaccination status. Unvaccinated people with valid negative pre-event tests or recovered individuals may also join them.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose.
Speaking at the same press conference, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the current situation is especially worrying because the KTV patrons cannot be easily identified.
"Today, the worry is that we don't know who the patrons are... if they visited the KTV lounges, if they went home and interacted with parents or grandparents," he added, noting that unvaccinated seniors might be in "grave danger".
It is different from last year's dormitory outbreak, for instance, when infected migrant workers were segregated from the general community. Most of them were also relatively young and therefore did not pose a strain on the healthcare system.
Since Monday, cases have been identified among visitors to at least 11 KTV lounges, including some in Far East Shopping Centre, Tanglin Shopping Centre, Golden Mile Complex and Parklane Shopping Mall, among others.
The outlets had pivoted to serving food and beverage during the pandemic to remain in business.
As a precaution, all nightlife establishments that had pivoted to food and beverage establishments will have their operations suspended from Friday until July 30. There are more than 400 such establishments.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said staff of these establishments will all be tested during this period. It will also inspect safe management protocols and ensure these are properly implemented before they are allowed to resume operations.
Singapore had been preparing to open up further after two months of heightened alert, and there had been talk that restrictions could be eased up further by the end of July, such as raising the limit for social gatherings to eight people.
But with the new cluster growing to more than 100 infections in days, rules on social gatherings will once again be tightened.
In an impassioned plea, Mr Wong urged Singaporeans to do their part and act responsibly, adding that irresponsible behaviour can result in a "never-ending spiral".
"Enforcement agencies have to keep on doing more, and then more bad behaviour (emerges) and we keep on doing more. It never stops," he said.
Just one irresponsible action can have a "devastating impact" on the community, the minister added.
While enforcement action will be beefed up, taking such operators to task is always a "cat and mouse game", Mr Wong said. This is because rule breakers are also constantly on the lookout and will adjust their behaviour accordingly.
He asked those who know of people breaking the rules to inform the authorities, adding: "Let us remind each other to be responsible, individually and as a society."
MOH said concessions on dining in at eateries will be made for children aged 12 and below, as they are not eligible for vaccination and it is challenging to swab them for pre-event testing.
This means children will be able to dine in at eateries with their vaccinated family members. However, the whole group must not exceed five people.
In addition, children should not constitute more than half the dine-in group if they are not from the same household.
Also, working from home will remain the default and social gatherings at the workplace will not be allowed.
Mr Wong added that the Government will extend the 10 per cent Jobs Support Scheme funding for affected sectors from July 26 to Aug 8.
This will help licensed F&B businesses, gyms, fitness studios, performing arts organisations and arts education centres.
Rental waivers and subsidies for fees for table cleaning and centralised dishwashing services at hawker centres will also be extended by one month. This applies to centres managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) or NEA-appointed operators.
Mr Ong said that if Singapore's road to dealing with Covid-19 is an expressway, then the current situation is "a bit of a detour".
He stressed that vaccination is the key to realising Singapore's aims of treating the virus as endemic. At present, this is not possible because only 43 per cent of the overall population is vaccinated, he said.
"But we are still on the same road, on the same road map," the minister added. "Once we reach two-thirds or 70, 75 per cent, we are much more able to stick to the road that we are on."