KTV lounges in Covid-19 cluster did not take government grants to pivot to F&B

The growing KTV Covid-19 cluster, linked to a number of KTV lounges here, hit 120 cases on Friday. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG, GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - None of the nightlife establishments that took government grants to pivot to food and beverage (F&B) services is, to date, part of the growing KTV Covid-19 cluster, Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said during a virtual press conference on Friday (July 16).

The cluster, linked to a number of KTV lounges here, hit 120 cases on Friday, with the multi-ministry task force tackling the epidemic warning that many more cases will likely emerge in the coming days.

All nightlife establishments here have been closed since the circuit breaker last year. Task force co-chairman Lawrence Wong said that following the closures, the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) appealed to the Government for help.

In response, the authorities offered such establishments a grant to either exit the business, or pivot to F&B or other commercial uses, said Mr Wong, who is Finance Minister.

Mr Gan, who is also a task force co-chairman, said that about 18 nightlife establishments received the grant specifically to pivot to the F&B business.

According to the SNBA website, these establishments can access a grant of up to $50,000 to defray qualifying costs incurred during the pivoting process, such as costs related to refurbishment works, purchase of kitchen and service equipment and business consultancy. The grant is available until Sept 30.

"The investigation is still ongoing, but none of those that have been picked up for violation have received any of the grants," said Mr Gan.

Mr Wong said that some operators chose to pivot to other industries, with several now operating as cinemas or gyms.

About 400 became F&B outlets. It was announced on Friday that this group would have to suspend their operations for two weeks as an additional layer of precaution as a result of the KTV cluster.

Said Mr Wong: "During this two-week period, we will test the staff and workers, we will inspect all of their safe management measures and protocols, and we will allow them to resume only after we are satisfied that the safe management measures are well in place.

"The onus is very much now on the Singapore Nightlife Business Association and its members to show us that they can get their act together and behave properly."

Nightlife operators were unhappy over news of the suspension.

Ms Francesca Way, co-founder of A Phat Cat Collective, which runs two bars in Tanjong Pagar Road that now operate as F&B outlets, feels the authorities should specifically focus on hostess-driven businesses.

"There are 400 businesses that are affected, the majority of them are bona fide and legitimate and have already suffered significantly during the past year.

"Even if nightclubs and the KTVs are closed, the problem (will continue with) social hostesses in massage parlours and private hotel gatherings rather than at food and drink-centric outlets," she said.

She added that errant KTVs should be dealt with "stringently", but noted that establishments which have been compliant all along may now be unfairly impacted.

"It hardly seems fair that these guys are affected too when the clientele is wildly different from that of the errant KTVs and other hostess-centric businesses. We are just trying to make an honest living by operating as a regular dine-in space," she said.

Mr Flint Lu, founder of HaveFun Karaoke, which has six outlets islandwide, said the suspension might make things worse for the already struggling nightlife industry.

"We do understand the Government's decision," said Mr Lu, whose KTV business is aimed at families. The chain pivoted to F&B and cinema operations, and mainly serves families, students and corporate clients.

But he questioned the effectiveness of a blanket suspension, pointing out that the cluster had formed despite KTV lounges not operating for the last 16 months.

Mr Lu added: "We are not meeting customers' social entertainment needs by providing them with an outlet, and this has led to them looking for entertainment elsewhere."

Despite not being affected by the suspension, as it is a co-working and study space, Teo Heng KTV Studio called on the authorities to reconsider their decision.

Its director, Ms Jean Teo, said: "We were promised things like the pilot programme, which was put on hold in January, and then we looked forward to reopening in end-August... I hope the authorities will examine the situation to see which areas they should look into instead of penalising everyone."

She added: "We are very willing to collaborate with the authorities closely so that we can have a chance to come back as close to normal as possible."

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