Coronavirus: Singapore

Teething issues as businesses gear up for mandatory testing

Some F&B players also worry about penalties in case they are unable to meet the standards

As food and beverage and other businesses in high-risk settings gear up for mandatory 14-day Covid-19 testing to become a part of their operations from next Thursday, some have faced teething issues familiarising themselves with the new testing regime.

Several F&B players have also expressed concern over the fallout for the already beleaguered industry if testing standards are not met.

With more Covid-19 measures set to ease from next Monday, a fast and easy testing (FET) regime has been progressively rolled out since June 21 for businesses in settings with unmasked clients and patrons such as dine-in F&B establishments and personal care services such as facial and nail services.

Smaller businesses, such as hawkers, who are unable to organise supervised self-swab tests on their own, have the option of getting swabbed at centralised centres.

Many businesses are opting for the Employer-Supervised Self-Swab (ESSS) regime, where employees will swab themselves under the supervision of a trained staff member.

Several businesses who are part of #savefnbsg, an independent restaurant coalition of 500 establishments that came together during the circuit breaker last year, have faced issues such as securing slots for training sessions for supervised antigen rapid test (ART) self-swabs. Staff will have to conduct these tests themselves.

Some others, which have already started in-house testing, have faced issues logging in to the portal where they have to upload the test results of the team.

"It has been confusing to get started with the testing regime for many of us," said Mr Loh Lik Peng, co-founder of #savefnbsg and founder of hospitality and restaurant group Unlisted Collection.

"It has been a slew of issues like not having enough time slots (for training sessions), no confirmation on the appointments and cancellation of appointments," he said.

HMI Institute, the vendor appointed by the Ministry of Health for the training sessions, told The Straits Times that on average, a thousand people are receiving training every day for the ESSS.

Slots are also updated daily, and "there are ample slots for everyone", said an HMI spokesman.

F&B establishments nominate at least two employees per outlet to attend the four-hour virtual training sessions. The employees have to collect the test kits and upload the FET results to their outlet's dedicated Swab Registration System (SRS) online.

Some F&B players are also worried about the penalties if they are unable to meet the standards.

Ms Gan Guoyi, president of the Singapore Cocktail Bar Association (SCBA), which represents over 60 bars, said many are concerned about the consequences.

For instance, the SRS system for reporting ART testing currently does not provide employers with a way to track when each employee is due for the next test, she said.

"Harsh punishments have been served to F&B businesses, with no opportunity for remedy, for unintentional infractions - especially in the recent weeks of reopening after the phase two (heightened alert) period - in the form of immediate 10-day closures and fines," she noted.

There are also concerns about the added cost for employers having to dedicate certain areas and staff to conduct the testing.

The costs for the ART kits and training for employees will be borne by the Government for three months, but businesses will have to take on the expenses themselves from October.

Mr Loh said: "It is a small price to pay, literally, in exchange for an assurance that we don't go through another round of closure."

However, SCBA's Ms Gan is also hoping for a concurrent shift towards a positive reopening for the F&B industry, with businesses having suffered more than a year of limited venue capacities and reduced operating hours.

"There should be more transparency on vaccination milestones as well as indication of when this mandatory testing and current curbs on the F&B industry can be lifted based on these milestones. This would give us a sense of hope that things are moving in a positive direction," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2021, with the headline Teething issues as businesses gear up for mandatory testing. Subscribe