Police conducted average of one enforcement operation a day on KTV, illegal nightlife outlets since October: Shanmugam
SINGAPORE: The police have been conducting extensive enforcement action against nightlife establishments, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam as he addressed questions on the KTV COVID-19 cluster in Parliament on Monday (Jul 26).
Mr Shanmugam was responding to questions in Parliament following ministerial statements by the co-chairs of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
He spoke after Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong gave updates on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore.
Watch: COVID-19 task force chairs deliver ministerial statements on Government's response to pandemic
From October 2020 to Jul 10 this year, the police conducted 202 operations against pivoted outlets, and other outlets which were operating illegally, said Mr Shanmugam. There were 142 arrests in total.
"Assume we had said no to all pivoting of F&B operations – there would still be places which offer sex and meet-up opportunities, that was always going to happen," he said. "So we had one police operation every single day, on average since October 2020."
Agencies have imposed around 100 closure orders on F&B outlets, including around 40 out of about 437 pivoted outlets. Seven pivoted outlets have had their food licence permanently revoked as of Jul 23.
READ: Return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) does not change roadmap of treating COVID-19 as endemic: Ong Ye Kung
Hostessing was not allowed in any setting and the women who were caught were operating illegally, in breach of their visit or work pass conditions, said Mr Shanmugam.
During the police’s recent operations against nightlife outlets, 29 women of various nationalities, were arrested. They were aged between 20 and 47.
The 29 include permanent residents, Work Pass holders, S Pass holders, long-term and short-term visit pass holders. One entered from a country that Singapore had opened unilaterally to, and there were some with student’s passes and dependant’s passes.
Five entered Singapore under the "girlfriend" category.
So far, 16 women have had their passes cancelled and have been or will be deported, while investigations are ongoing for the other women.
Mr Shanmugam also addressed questions on the girlfriend/boyfriend category for visitors to Singapore, which the first woman linked to the KTV cluster had entered under in February.
The category under the Familial Ties Lane was introduced in October last year to to allow boyfriends and girlfriends to come into Singapore after there were many appeals, he said.
“This boyfriend/girlfriend category scheme was specifically introduced in the context of the ban on short-term visitors to allow Singaporeans who were in relationships with foreign partners to be reunited because they had been separated for a long time due to border restrictions,” he said.
READ: First reported COVID-19 case of KTV cluster entered Singapore via familial ties lane: ICA, MOM
READ: Option to enter Singapore via familial ties lane no longer available for boyfriends, girlfriends of citizens and PRs
In February, due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in Vietnam, Singapore suspended its unilateral border opening to Vietnam.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority then began to receive many applications for Vietnamese to come into Singapore under the boyfriend/girlfriend category.
But the applications raised concerns, he said. For instance, there were multiple sponsors claiming to be one Vietnamese applicant’s boyfriends, and there were Singapore sponsors who applied for multiple girlfriends.
There were also sponsors who were already married to another woman, and those who could not substantiate their relationship with the travellers.
In March, the girlfriend/boyfriend category was scrapped as it was being abused, said Mr Shanmugam. “But unfortunately, what that has meant is that many legitimate applications are now being refused,” he said.
ICA has also taken action against "dodgy applications" by rescinding the approvals, barring the travellers from entry into Singapore, and suspending the sponsors and travellers from future applications, added Mr Shanmugam.
READ: COVID-19 restrictions to be reviewed in early August, any easing only for vaccinated people: Lawrence Wong
WHY KTVS WERE ALLOWED TO PIVOT TO F&B
The minister said that one of the questions raised was why KTVs were allowed to convert to food and beverage outlets.
Mr Shanmugam said that KTVs were not allowed reopen even as restrictions eased for other businesses last year, and the "situation was desperate" for many in the sector.
There were appeals to reopen from the sector, and a pilot programme for KTVs to reopen was considered but it did not proceed. Some businesses then asked to convert to F&B outlets.
"Basically, anyone can open an F&B outlet and Government can’t specifically say no to KTV outlets which want to become F&B outlets," said Mr Shanmugam.
More than 400 such businesses converted, and more than 100 operators exited the nightlife industry.
They were subject to the same safe management measures imposed on F&B outlets, including no intermingling among patrons and staff, no live music and no performances.
All pivoted nightlife establishments have been suspended from Jul 16 to 30 and they cannot open until they pass safety inspections.
Mr Shanmugam said that people have suggested that authorities should have known that KTVs will skirt the rules.
"There have been suggestions ranging from we were in effect in cahoots with the KTVs - which is the suggestion in a recent, quite unbalanced, Nikkei article - or alternatively very naive, not to realise what happens in KTVs," he said.
"The truth is we were neither in cahoots with the KTV operators nor as naive as some suggest."
Mr Shanmugam said that it was not feasible to stop operators from converting to F&B outlets just because they have a "dodgy reputation".
"The agencies will have to look (at the business owner) in the eye and say: You can’t get a licence to become a food place because we don’t think you are going to keep to the law in future," he said. "Even though you have committed no offence and even though you confirm that you will follow the rules."
Meanwhile, the pivoting has helped many legitimate businesses, he said.
READ: Return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) due to Jurong Fishery Port cluster, not KTV cluster: Ong Ye Kung
PHASE 2 (HA) NOT DUE TO KTV CLUSTER
Mr Shanmugam also said that there has been some "public confusion" that the KTV cluster was the reason behind the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) tightened restrictions.
"If we were facing only the KTV cluster, there would have been no need for any tightened measures. The tightening of measures is due to the cluster at the Jurong Fishery Port.
"It has spread from the ports to the markets, hawkers, into the wider community," he said.
The task force had decided the cluster could be managed without having to impose any additional restrictions, he said.
"The KTV cluster has been brought under control fairly quickly - tracing, testing and ring-fencing the cases," he said.
There were about five new cases linked to the KTV cluster each day for the past few days. He added that evidence did not suggest that the virus had spread from the KTV cluster to Jurong Fishery Port, as some have suggested.
"The virus seems to have come from the region to (the Jurong Fishery Port)," he said.