SINGAPORE: A "limited number" of nightlife establishments will be allowed to reopen with COVID-19 safety measures in place under a pilot programme, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Friday (Nov 6).
"The Government has been in close consultation with the nightlife industry to understand their concerns and has agreed to allow a limited number of nightlife establishments to reopen as pilots with stringent safe management measures," said the ministries in a joint press release.
The COVID-19 multi-ministry task force announced on Oct 20 that bars, pubs, nightclubs, discotheques and karaoke lounges will not be permitted to "reopen in their original form for some time, as the nature of their activities poses a high risk of COVID-19 transmission".
"Even if the pilots turn out well, it is expected that the nightlife industry will not resume operations in their original form for a considerable period," said MTI and MHA.
"The Government has thus worked out an assistance package to help nightlife establishments pivot to permissible activities or exit the industry."
SAFE MANAGEMENT MEASURES
The ministries said they are working with various nightlife business associations to identify "a small number" of nightlife establishments to take part in the pilots.
Those taking part must adopt safe management measures, including ensuring that all customers wear masks at all times except while eating and drinking. This includes customers who are on the dance floor or singing. Alcohol cannot be sold, served or consumed after 10.30pm.
All customers entering karaoke lounges and nightclubs must have tested negative for COVID-19 24 hours prior to the end of the activity at the nightlife establishment. They must have undergone either a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or an antigen rapid test (ART).
In a response to a CNA query, MTI and MHA said that the pre-event testing may be implemented by the pilot establishments onsite. Alternatively, customers may be required to get the test done at clinics prior to their visit.
CCTVs at establishments must be deployed and activated at all times, to cover all parts of the common areas and rooms used for the activities, said the ministries.
"Recordings must be stored for at least 28 days, for regular reviews by the enforcement agencies to check for compliance with safe management measures," said the press release.
READ: COVID-19: Singapore to pilot pre-event rapid testing from mid-October so more events can safely resume
Establishments must comply with these measures at all times. Those who are found to have breached them will face penalties and may be removed from the pilot, said the ministries.
Enforcement agencies will monitor participating establishments and their customers’ compliance with the safety measures to assess if it will be safe to allow the industry to resume limited operations after the pilot, or remain closed.
In the event of a COVID-19 cluster at these establishments, the Government may suspend or terminate the pilots.
PILOTS TO START
The pilot for pubs and bars will start by December and last for two months.
Pilots for karaoke lounges and nightclubs will only begin in January 2021.
This is to allow the karaoke lounges and nightclubs more time to make the necessary preparations, as they will be required to ensure that all customers entering their premises have tested negative for COVID-19 within a 24-hour timeframe prior to the end of the activity, said the ministries.
READ: Lights out, music stops: Still-shuttered pubs, karaoke joints call for help amid COVID-19 pandemic
The pilots for karaoke lounges and nightclubs will last for three months.
This is because more time is required to assess the readiness of the industry to reopen, in view of the much higher risks and the more stringent safe management measures required in these settings, said MTI and MHA.
"The pilots aim to establish the viability and robustness of stringent safe management measures that will be required to be put in place, and the nightlife industry’s ability to comply with them, before the Government considers allowing any further resumption of nightlife businesses," the press release said.
GRANTS FOR NIGHTLIFE ESTABLISHMENTS
Nightlife establishments that are not participating in the pilots may opt to "pivot to other permissible activities", such as F&B operations, said the ministries.
"MTI has worked with regulatory agencies, including the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), to simplify the application process for nightlife establishments looking to pivot to F&B operations," said the press release.
"Applications to pivot to alternative commercial uses apart from F&B, such as offices or gyms, will also be assessed by the relevant agencies on a case-by-case basis."
From now until Mar 31, 2021, nightlife establishments that wish to "pivot" to other permissible activities may apply for a grant of up to S$50,000 from Enterprise Singapore to defray qualifying costs incurred during the pivoting process, such as equipment and third-party consultancy costs.
"ESG is prepared to extend this support to nightlife establishments which had taken the initiative to change their business activity earlier on a case-by-case basis."
Nightlife establishments exiting the industry can also apply to ESG from now until Mar 31, 2021, for an ex-gratia payment of S$30,000 to defray the costs of the cessation of business.
"For employees who are retrenched as a result of the cessation, employers should honour retrenchment benefit contractually provided for, or follow the retrenchment benefit norms as stipulated within the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment," said MTI and MHA.
"For any retrenchment benefit paid to local employees, employers can also seek financial support to defray one month of salary2 paid to each employee. We will also continue to work with industry partners to assist affected employees to seek alternative employment."
Nightlife establishments will only be eligible for either one of the financial support packages.
Those interested should reach out to the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) at email@example.com for more information on the financial support packages and how to apply for them.
Upon receipt of either one of the financial support package, the firm will not be allowed to participate in the pilot programme or any subsequent resumption of nightlife operations for at least 12 months.
Firms that meet the eligibility criteria may also tap on the Ministry of Law’s (MinLaw) Simplified Insolvency Programme, which will help them restructure their debts or wind up their company.
Sole proprietors and partnerships may tap on the Sole Proprietors and Partnerships (SPP) scheme to restructure their business debts, said MTI and MHA.
MinLaw has introduced a legislative Re-Align Framework under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) to allow businesses which have experienced a "substantial change in circumstances due to COVID-19" to renegotiate certain prescribed contracts with their counterparties, failing which they may be able to terminate the contract.