KTV Covid-19 cluster: Nightlife businesses reminded to be vigilant, adhere to safe management rules

The three KTV lounges in the cluster, (clockwise from top left) Supreme KTV, Empress and Dolce. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG, GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) worked with over 60 KTV lounges to temporarily convert their operations from nightlife venues to food and beverage (F&B) outlets since November last year.

However, the three venues that have emerged as part of an emerging KTV cluster of Covid-19 infections were not among them.

The three KTV lounges in the cluster - namely Supreme KTV at Far East Shopping Centre, Empress at Tanglin Shopping Centre and Dolce at Balestier Point - are also not members of the SNBA.

SNBA president Joseph Ong told The Straits Times on Tuesday (July 13) that the three lounges had inquired with the association on assistance to apply to Enterprise Singapore (ESG) for a grant to pivot to F&B operations. But they did not go ahead with the grant, and had instead applied to the authorities directly to successfully convert their operations.

"They were not part of the pivoting programme that was made available to help nightlife operators," said Mr Ong.

On its website, SNBA says operators who wish to convert to F&B operations may apply for 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 Urban Redevelopment Authority grants a one-year temporary conversion for operators who choose to pivot to F&B operations, subject to certain conditions. The 34 had pivoted to becoming a snack bar, cafe, bistro or restaurant.

KTV lounges are in the spotlight after the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday announced that it was investigating Covid-19 infections among a group of Vietnamese social hostesses who had frequented KTV lounges or clubs now operating as F&B outlets.

Eight of the 19 locally transmitted cases confirmed on Tuesday belonged to the cluster.

Since March last year, nightlife establishments have not been allowed to operate their regular business. As at July 9, SNBA has helped 388 nightlife operators apply to the authorities to pivot operations to F&B and other commercial uses, such as offices and gyms since November last year.

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) in May this year said more than 400 nightlife operators have received the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) food shop or snack counter licence and temporarily pivoted to F&B operations.

But some continued to operate as bars, clubs and karaoke lounges. Among other things, they had allowed live entertainment and games, failed to prevent large groups of patrons from intermingling, and employed hostesses.

As a result, several nightlife operators have been fined or told to close over breaches of safe management measures, some more than once.

Mr Ong said that as part of the pivot programme, nightlife venues have to adhere to strict safe management measures.

"The industry is rather big and there may be bad apples, so we must clamp down on those whenever we can," he said.

"The vast majority of operators are those that do business the right way, keeping to all the strict requirements. We have to be clear with how we deal with people who infringe the rules, and for those who adhere to the rules, we will help them recover."

MSE had said it will step up enforcement, with SFA revoking the food licences of non-compliant former nightlife operators.

Mr Ong said: "Everybody needs to toe the line and watch out for the health of others. (SNBA members) have to really help the industry to make sure they're adhering to all requirements in order to get back to business by the end of the year, as per the announcements that authorities have made."

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The association is concerned this may put a dent in plans for the battered industry to resume their core businesses as pubs, bars, nightclubs, discos and karaoke lounges.

"We will do a deep dive and make sure something similar does not happen with other operators who have successfully pivoted," said Mr Ong.

"If there are more situations like this cluster, operators like these could compromise the whole industry, and the greater public at large."

Correction note: The SNBA has clarified that they worked with over 60 KTV lounges to temporarily convert their operations from nightlife venues to food and beverage outlets since November last year, and not 34 as initially reported.

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