COVID-19: REOPENING SETBACK

Dine-in group size cut, pivoted nightspots suspended amid 'major setback' due to KTV cluster

Onus on nightlife association and its members to show they can 'get their act together and behave properly', says minister

Singapore

FOR three weeks from July 19 to Aug 8, dining-in at food and beverage (F&B) establishments will be scaled back to groups of a maximum of two people.

Those who are fully vaccinated, however, can continue to visit in groups of up to five - but only at F&B outlets that have mandatory SafeEntry systems in place for them to monitor and check the vaccination status of the customers, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong at a press conference on Friday.

He announced these and other restrictions in the wake of a new and growing cluster of infections linked to numerous KTV lounges. As of Friday, this cluster has 120 cases, which makes it Singapore's largest active cluster. There were 53 new local cases confirmed as at Friday noon, including the 32 KTV-linked ones.

In Singapore, a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after he or she has received two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty or Moderna vaccines.

Unvaccinated individuals with a valid negative pre-event test result, as well as those who have recovered from Covid-19 within the last 270 days, can also join in such groups of five.

Children below the age of 12, who are currently ineligible for Singapore's national vaccination programme, can dine together with members of the same household, so long as the whole group does not exceed five people.

Also speaking at the same briefing by the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said more cases linked to the KTV cluster are expected in the coming days.

As of Friday afternoon, 2,480 people - staff and patrons of the affected KTV joints identified via SafeEntry and TraceTogether data - have been placed under quarantine, with some testing positive for the virus.

"This is a major setback in our journey to recovery, and I understand many Singaporeans will be disappointed, and so are we," said Mr Gan. "We must respond to this emerging cluster quickly, especially to protect those who have not yet been vaccinated completely."

But instead of rolling back safe management measures drastically, the authorities are looking at a more "targeted approach" that differentiates people according to their vaccination status.

Individual F&B outlets will have the flexibility to decide whether to introduce vaccination-differentiated group sizes, depending on their operating models and clientele, as well as their ability to keep track of patrons' vaccination statuses.

Group sizes will be limited to two at hawker centres, food courts and coffee shops, which have a "more porous setting" and generally do not mandate SafeEntry check-ins.

"As dining-in in F&B establishments remains a high-risk activity because many people will be unmasked and in close proximity with each other, entertainment such as live performances, recorded music and videos/TV screenings will continue to be prohibited at F&B establishments," the Ministry of Health said in a press release on Friday.

Tighter measures were also announced for other higher-risk indoor and mask-off settings such as for gyms and fitness studios. As a result, operators of licensed F&B outlets, gyms, fitness studios, performing arts organisations and arts education centres will be eligible for extended wage support of 10 per cent from July 26 to Aug 8, under the Enhanced Jobs Support Scheme.

For self-employed hawkers, rental waivers and subsidies for fees for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services will also be extended by one month, for stallholders in centres managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA), or NEA-appointed operators.

Indoor high-intensity activities which require people to remove their masks will be limited to groups of two, in classes capped at 30. Groups of five are allowed for those fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19, or able to show a valid negative test result.

Outdoor activities and indoor activities where participants are masked can continue in groups of no more than five people in classes capped at 50.

There are no changes to restrictions for weddings and solemnisations, live performances, sporting events and congregational and worship services.

These events must be capped at 250 people with pre-event testing, or up to 50 people without testing. For weddings in the latter category, the wedding party must be tested.

Meanwhile, all nightlife establishments that have temporarily pivoted to operate as F&B outlets will be suspended for two weeks until July 30, during which all their staff will be tested and the premises inspected.

Operations will be allowed to resume only if the authorities are satisfied that safe management measures are in place, said Mr Wong.

"I think the onus now is very much on the (Singapore Nightlife Business Association) and its members to show us that they can get their act together and behave properly," he said, adding that there are 400 such nightspot-turned-F&B establishments today.

On Thursday, the authorities revoked the F&B licences of three former nightclub operators for breaching safety regulations, such as failing to minimise mingling between staff and customers, letting groups of more than two people to sit together, and playing music.

Giving an update on Singapore's vaccination rate, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that as of July 15, about 73 per cent of the population had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

About half of the population would have received two doses "sometime next week", putting Singapore slightly ahead of its original target.

Infection numbers are expected to rise in the coming days, but this "might not be the most important number", said Mr Ong, as those infected who are vaccinated or are younger are unlikely to place undue pressure on the country's healthcare system.

"Instead, let's watch out (for) the number hospitalised with severe illness, needing oxygen or in the intensive care unit (ICU). That's the key number to watch in the next few days," he said, adding that those numbers will determine whether Singapore has to consider tightening measures significantly in future.

There is currently only one Covid-19 patient in the ICU, with Singapore's hospitals having a capacity of 1,000 ICU beds for Covid-19 cases.

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