Coronavirus Singapore

Pilot scheme to let nightlife joints reopen

Safe management measures like negative Covid-19 tests will be in force

This announcement comes about nine months into the closure of nightlife venues, which has seen many businesses crippled and even closed. PHOTO: ST FILE

Selected nightlife venues will be able to reopen by next month or January under strict safe management measures - such as wearing masks on the dance floor and showing proof of negative Covid-19 tests before entering - as part of a two-to three-month pilot programme.

This announcement by the Government yesterday comes about nine months into the closure of nightlife venues like clubs, karaoke joints and bars without food licences - which has seen many businesses crippled and even closing down.

In the first six months of the year, 59 nightclubs, discotheques, dance clubs and karaoke outlets wound up, according to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

There are about 4,000 pubs, bars, clubs and entertainment outlets, estimated to be employing almost 50,000 people within and outside the industry, said the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA).

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a joint statement that they are "working with various nightlife business associations to identify a small number of nightlife establishments to participate in the pilots".

The pilot for pubs and bars is expected to kick off by next month and last two months.

But the pilot for karaoke establishments and nightclubs will begin only by January to let them put in place measures to ensure customers test negative for Covid-19 within the previous 24 hours via a polymerase chain reaction test or an antigen rapid test.

This could be tests by the businesses on-site, or a requirement for customers to visit clinics providing this service before patronising the nightlife joints.

The pilot for karaoke joints and nightclubs will also last longer - for three months, as more time is needed to assess the readiness of the industry to reopen. This is in view of "much higher risks and the more stringent safe management measures required".

Strict safe management measures will include ensuring all customers wear masks at all times, even while on the dance floor or singing at karaoke joints. They can remove masks only while eating and drinking.

Alcohol cannot be sold, served or consumed after 10.30pm as well.

Additionally, closed-circuit television cameras covering all common areas and rooms used for activities must be activated.

Those who breach the measures will not only face penalties under Covid-19 rules, but may be removed from the pilot too.

MTI and MHA have engaged key stakeholders and will allow nightlife associations to nominate businesses to join the pilots.

They will then jointly assess the nominees, taking into consideration their proposals to implement the prescribed safe management measures, and their profile or type of business to ensure diversity among the companies in the pilots.

They may also consider establishments with economic or social significance that are strongly supported by other public agencies.

Nightlife joints not in the pilots will get financial support to let them either pivot to other business lines or exit with a one-off payment.

Those that wish to pivot to food and beverage or other commercial uses such as offices or gyms can apply for a grant of up to $50,000 from Enterprise Singapore (ESG) until March 31. This is to help cover costs incurred during the process. For joints that have already pivoted, ESG will offer support on a case-by-case basis.

Businesses looking to exit can apply to ESG until March 31 for an ex gratia payment of $30,000 to defray the costs of cessation of business. For retrenchment benefits paid to local staff, employers can seek financial support for one month of salary paid to each worker.

If firms choose to receive either financial support package, they cannot participate in the pilot schemes or resume nightlife operations for at least 12 months.

SNBA president Joseph Ong welcomed the Government's initiatives, adding: "This is something we were looking out for… The Government has done a very comprehensive assessment, and the solutions are thoughtful.

"It will not satisfy everyone, especially the bigger operators, but (the Government is) trying to help the small companies."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2020, with the headline Pilot scheme to let nightlife joints reopen. Subscribe