Safra Jurong Covid-19 cluster: Feb 15 event was CNY celebration by members of Hokkien singing group

Mr Ong, who goes by his stage name Yige, was the emcee at a private dinner function held at Joy Garden restaurant at Safra Jurong on Feb 15, 2020.
Mr Ong, who goes by his stage name Yige, was the emcee at a private dinner function held at Joy Garden restaurant at Safra Jurong on Feb 15, 2020.PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG, COURTESY OF MR ONG

SINGAPORE - The Feb 15 event at Safra Jurong, which has been linked to 21 cases of Covid-19 so far, was a Chinese New Year celebration attended by members of a Hokkien singing group.

According to the emcee of the event, about 200 people were at the dinner, and the night featured song-and-dance performances and a lohei segment.

The emcee, who goes by the stage name Yige, told The Straits Times on Saturday (March 7) that the event was "very lively, very happy".

It was organised by Hokkien music teacher Liang Fengyi. 

The function was at the Joy Garden Restaurant's ballroom, a hotel-style hall which can take 120 tables, according to its website.

Yige - who did not want to reveal his name other than Mr Ong - said there was a similar dinner in another part of the ballroom on the night of Feb 15.

This was organised by Hokkien and Cantonese singing coach Gao Fei, and Yige estimated that there were about 400 people at that celebration.

"I am quite sure there were interactions between the guests at both events because they are from the same dialect singing community," he said in Mandarin.

"Many of the guests were students of both of these teachers, so some of them would have been friends and would have met up to catch up or take photographs."

Yige, 58, said that since news of the first confirmed case from Safra Jurong on Thursday, he has stayed home on self-quarantine.

"I am well and healthy but I think this is the right thing to do," he said.

He added that on Feb 15, because of the coronavirus outbreak, he made sure there was disinfectant to clean the microphones after every use.

He had also advised guests to use disposable chopsticks and refrain from shaking hands that night, and he said he had asked the restaurant to keep one door of the room open for better ventilation.

 
 
 

"I am very cautious about these things and I thought we could have a good event with no problems," he said.

"Imagine my shock when I found out that the event has become a coronavirus cluster."

A guest at the Gao Fei event told ST on Saturday that she had not developed symptoms.

The 52-year-old woman, who works part-time in a cleaning company and wanted to be known only as Ms G, said her friends who were there are all feeling fine too.

"I am not aware of anyone who attended who fell ill at his event," she said in Mandarin.

In a statement after the first cases were confirmed, Safra Jurong said that it had imposed mandatory temperature screening after Singapore's Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level was raised from yellow to orange in February.

All visitors to the club at Boon Lay Way had cleared temperature checks.

"They did not have fever, nor exhibited any flu-like symptoms. They also did not have any recent travel history to mainland China within the past 14 days of their visit to the club, as stated within their declaration," the club said.

The Safra Jurong cluster is the second-largest in Singapore after the 32 patients linked to the Grace Assembly of God and Life Church and Missions one.


A temperature screening booth at Safra Jurong as seen on March 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

At a press conference on Friday, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health, said investigations on the Safra Jurong cluster are ongoing.

Not all the 21 patients linked to Safra Jurong had attended the dinner, and some are family members.

Prof Mak said the patients were seated at more than one table and moved around throughout the event.

Some of those who were infected had continued with their social activities after the dinner and went to work despite having respiratory symptoms, he added.

 
 
 

On Saturday, netizens circulated social media posts stating that the Grace Assembly of God church had held a dinner at Safra Jurong's Joy Garden restaurant on Feb 8, a week before the Hokkien singing function.

When contacted, the church said that a function had been planned for Feb 8 but was cancelled after the Dorscon alert level was raised to orange.

A church spokesman added: "Chinese dinners usually involve sharing of food."

As of Saturday evening, Singapore has reported 138 confirmed cases of Covid-19. A total of 90 patients have fully recovered and been discharged from hospital. Of the 48 still in hospital, most are stable or improving. Eight are in critical care in the intensive care unit.