Singapore defers pilot reopening of nightclubs, karaoke outlets

Singapore defers pilot reopening of nightclubs, karaoke outlets

People walk along Ann Siang Hill on July 16, 2020. The government announced on Nov 6, 2020 that it would run small-scale pilots for a limited number of nightlife outlets to reopen with stringent Covid-19 safety rules. (TODAY photo)
People walk along Ann Siang Hill on July 16, 2020. The government announced on Nov 6, 2020 that it would run small-scale pilots for a limited number of nightlife outlets to reopen with stringent Covid-19 safety rules. (TODAY photo)

SINGAPORE: Pilots for the reopening of nightclubs and karaoke outlets that were supposed to start this month have been deferred until further notice, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a joint press statement.

“We have seen an increase in the number of community cases in Singapore recently, of which some cases are currently unlinked and under investigation,” TODAY quoted them as saying on Tuesday.

“To prevent the risk of further community transmission and formation of clusters in high-risk settings such as nightclubs and karaoke outlets, which entail people coming into close contact for prolonged periods of time and in enclosed spaces, the pilots have been deferred until further notice.”

They added that it is uncertain when the pilot may be able to begin, “given the dynamic public health situation”.

The relevant agencies will review it at a “suitable juncture”, they said.

The Ministry of Health said on Tuesday night that the number of new Covid-19 cases in the community had risen to 14 in the past week, from six cases the week before.

The MTI and MHA announced on Nov 6 last year that the government would run small-scale pilots for the nightlife industry to allow a limited number of nightlife outlets, which include bars, pubs, nightclubs, discotheques and karaoke establishments, to reopen with stringent safe management measures.

The aim of the pilots was to establish the viability and robustness of the measures in ensuring the safe conduct of the activities, and the ability of the nightlife industry to comply with them, before the government considered further steps in the resumption of nightlife businesses, the ministries said.

The pilot for bars and pubs began on Dec 8. Three outlets are involved in the pilot now.

Nightlife business associations were also invited to nominate suitable nightclubs and karaoke outlets to take part in the pilots.

Two nightclubs and 10 karaoke outlets were shortlisted, with the aim of commencing the pilot in January this year, subject to the prevailing Covid-19 situation and lead time required to prepare for the pilot, the ministries said.“We are working with the operators who were shortlisted for the pilot on the next steps for their businesses, and assisting them individually.

Operators express disappointment, but understand rationale

While some participants of the pilot told TODAY that they understood there is a greater need to keep the virus in check, they added that they could not help but feel disappointed with the decision by the authorities.

This is particularly so for two karaoke operators who had been waiting for months to open their doors to crooners once again.

Frank Per, the owner of the Sing My Song Family Karaoke outlet at Paya Lebar Quarter Mall and Block 962 Jurong West Street 91, said that even though he had tweaked his business in December towards food and beverage, business is still poor.

The 47-year-old, who is also the treasurer of the Singapore Entertainment Affiliation that represents karaoke operators, said he often gets passersby dropping in to ask if they can resume singing.

“Most of the time they are not interested (in the food). They just want to sing,” he said.

“It’s quite demoralising that after so many months, the only hope (for karaoke operators) has disappeared.”

Ho Ming Shun, the co-owner of Kloud Karaoke at the Kinex shopping mall along Tanjong Katong Road, was still hoping for the best despite earlier concerns in recent days that the pilot would be suspended due to the rise in the number of community cases.

The 36-year-old said: “We were all gearing up and excited for the pilot to start, so the announcement was quite anti-climatic.”

Both Per and Ho said they have spent several thousand dollars to get their business ready for the pilot, including installing security cameras.

“We will have to decide whether to close down the business, or figure how to survive,” said Ho.

Per said he hopes the landlords can treat karaoke outlets as vacant units for this period.

He believes this will only affect a “small percentage” of their balance sheets, but it will be a significant saving grace for karaoke operators.

Otherwise, he foresees many operators closing for good.

Nasen Thiagarajan, who chairs a committee at the Singapore Nightlife Business Association that oversees the nominations of suitable applicants for the pilot, said affected operators can consider other existing support measures, such as S$50,000 (1.13 million baht) grant to assist in changing their business model, or a S$30,000 grant to exit the industry for good.

Both grants are offered by the government, and the applications remain open to all eligible affected operators till March 31 this year, he said.

“The setback is unfortunate,” said Thiagarajan, who is also the chief executive officer of bar and restaurant group Harry's International.

“As an industry, we would like to see all nightlife businesses open up safely in some form and the pilot was a good first step.”

Bryan Ong, the managing of Strumm’s Holding, which oversees the managing of the Ipanema World Music Bar, said that the most “painful” effect from the cancellation of the pilot is not the monetary loss, but the inconvenience caused to his staff.

To get ready for the pilot opening, the 31-year-old said he had recalled 10 of his staff members to carry out their roles as security officers, cashiers and floor staff.

Some of these staff had not worked since the club ceased operating, while others had taken on jobs with other employers.

Ong said he hopes the latter group of employees who gave up their current jobs to return back to their “second home” do not lose employment.

“This setback has been disappointing,” he said. “But we understand that the bigger picture is to make sure that Singapore stops any more community spreads.”

Bollywood Spice, which is the only other club on the pilot, declined comment. 

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