SINGAPORE: All nightlife establishments that had pivoted to operating as food and beverage outlets will have to suspend business for two weeks from Friday (Jul 16) after a rise in COVID-19 cases, many of them linked to a growing KTV cluster.
The suspension affects more than 400 such businesses, said the Ministry of Health (MOH), adding that they will be individually notified about the decision.
During the suspension period, all employees will be tested for COVID-19.
The KTV COVID-19 cluster, which was first reported on Jul 12, has 120 cases linked to it as of Friday. This is up from 88 infections on Thursday.
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Nightlife establishments have not been allowed to operate since October last year, MOH noted. But they were given the green light to switch to operating as F&B venues.
“Regrettably, several errant establishments have abused the system by operating clandestine and illegal activities. Three such F&B establishments have since had their licences to serve food revoked by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA),” said the ministry.
"We will continue to take strict enforcement actions against all F&B operators who breach the safe management measures."
At a press conference, co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministerial task force Lawrence Wong said that these businesses will be allowed to resume operations “only after we are satisfied that safe management measures are well in place”.
“I think the onus is very much now on the nightlife association and its members to show us that they can get their act together and behave properly,” he added.
Mr Wong joined the press conference remotely as he is in isolation after returning from G20 meetings in Venice.
In a media release, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said outlets will only be allowed to resume operations after Jul 30 if they pass an inspection and receive approval from SFA.
It added that any outlet found to be operating during the suspension period will face firm enforcement action. This includes prosecution and having their licences for food, public entertainment and liquor permanently cancelled.
"Given the recent flagrant SMM (safe management measures) breaches by a number of pivoted nightlife operators, all applications from nightlife operators seeking to convert to F&B establishments will be suspended with immediate effect," said MSE.
The suspension of applications will be in force for three months.
A total of 2,480 people linked to the KTV cluster have been identified through contact tracing and quarantined, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at the press conference.
Following the ministry's call for customers or those who came into contact with social hostesses to come forward for testing, 1,660 people have done so. Among them, 25 tested positive, Mr Ong said.
He cautioned, however, that those who tested negative for COVID-19 are "not out of the woods yet because there is an incubation period".
To mitigate the risk of wider undetected community transmission, authorities will "aggressively ringfence" cases emerging around the KTV cluster, through the use of SafeEntry data, said the Health Ministry.
People who were identified to have visited hotspots at the same time as a COVID-19 case will receive "health risk warning" by SMS. They will be required to get swabbed at a designated testing centre and self-isolate until they receive a negative test from their first polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
“As such individuals who test negative could still be incubating the virus, they should still limit their interactions with others as an added precaution for 14 days from their last exposure and only undertake essential activities during this period,” MOH said.
READ: Nightlife industry worried about business impact, stricter rules if KTV COVID-19 cluster continues to grow
They will also be issued self-test kits and are required to administer the Antigen Rapid Test (ART) on the 7th day from the last exposure to confirm that they are not infected.
Around the 14th day from their date of last known exposure, they will be required to undergo another PCR test at a designated testing centre.
“If these individuals should develop any acute respiratory infection (ARI) symptoms, such as cough, runny nose, or fever, they should see their doctor immediately,” MOH said.
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HEALTH RISK ALERT
Another category of SMS - "health risk alert" - will be sent to people who visited the locations where these pivoted nightlife businesses are located, or at other similar establishments flagged by the Singapore Police Force.
"Unlike 'health risk warning', these individuals are not subject to actions required by the law. However, they should monitor their health and limit their interactions with others for 14 days from their last exposure as an added precaution," said MOH.
The ministry urged people who recently visited such nightlife establishments or who had interacted with social hostesses in any settings between Jun 29 and Jul 15 to step forward for a free swab test.
They may also go to a private clinic and pay for tests, MOH added.