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Timeline: From KTV lounges switching to F&B outlets, to a spike in local COVID-19 cases

Timeline: From KTV lounges switching to F&B outlets, to a spike in local COVID-19 cases

WU Bistro at Golden Mile Complex. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

SINGAPORE: On Monday (Jul 12), the Ministry of Health (MOH) first announced the KTV cluster - then called the Case 64693 cluster - with three cases linked to it.

MOH said that day it was investigating cases of infection among Vietnamese social hostesses who had frequented KTV lounges or clubs currently operating as food and beverage (F&B) outlets, as well as their close social contacts. 

Then on Tuesday, MOH officially named the cases as the KTV lounges/clubs cluster, and stated that the cluster had swelled to 12 cases, with likely ongoing COVID-19 transmission at three KTV outlets.

READ: 42 new COVID-19 cases linked to KTV cluster; situation ‘troubling and disappointing’, says Ong Ye Kung

On Wednesday, MOH announced 42 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore had been linked to the cluster, with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung calling the situation “troubling and disappointing”.

READ: Existing COVID-19 dine-in rules to remain despite 'potentially huge’ KTV lounge cluster: Ong Ye Kung

“We knew about cases like that happening in Korea, in Hong Kong, nightlife - people coming very close together, some with hostesses, and leading to big clusters. So we have never allowed such activities for the past more than one year," Mr Ong said.

“And so any outlets providing hostess services, dice games and all this very close contact, were never allowed, knowing and learning from the experiences of places like Hong Kong and Korea. So for this to now happen has been troubling and disappointing.”

MOH said in an update on Thursday that 34 more cases were linked to the KTV cluster, which now has a total of 88 infections. 

Here is a timeline of how it got to this point:

AUG 17, 2020: A CAUTIONARY NOTE

It is Aug 17, 2020, slightly more than two months since the "circuit breaker" ended in June.

Some restrictions were gradually eased as Singapore reopened its economy in stages. However, nightlife outlets such as night clubs, pubs and KTVs were told to remain closed.

READ: Lights out, music stops: Still-shuttered pubs, karaoke joints call for help amid COVID-19 pandemic

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat warned in a ministerial statement that such businesses would "not be able to open any time soon” due to safety considerations.

But he said the Government would help these businesses “transition to other activities or ease their exit”, with more details to come from the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

READ: Nightlife industry a 'higher risk' setting, activities unlikely to resume even at start of Phase 3: Lawrence Wong

Later that month, the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) said the restrictions had taken a toll on the industry, with about one-third of its 320 members still unable to reopen.

Even for outlets that had licences to operate as F&B establishments, business was still challenging due to restrictions such as the banning of drinking after 10.30pm.

OCT 20, 2020: NIGHTLIFE BUSINESSES START PIVOTING

The COVID-19 multi-ministry task force reiterated on Oct 20 that the nightlife industry, as a sector with a higher risk setting, was not expected to resume activities even after Singapore entered Phase 3 of its reopening.

"The nature of the activities themselves, of such activities, means that you have people socialising in close contact, often in a small enclosed space and risk is very much higher," said task force co-chair Lawrence Wong.

WATCH: COVID-19: Nightlife businesses switching to F&B to have their applications prioritised

This prompted more nightlife businesses to switch to F&B, with their applications prioritised and sped up. The process now took up to three weeks, half the time needed previously, SNBA said.

NOV 6, 2020: GRANTS FOR PIVOTING TO F&B ANNOUNCED

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and MTI announced on Aug 6 that under a pilot programme, a "limited number" of nightlife establishments would be allowed to reopen with COVID-19 safety measures.

The measures include opening only to residents and work pass holders, ensuring customers test negative for COVID-19 before entering, and the wearing of masks at all times except while eating and drinking.

READ: Some nightlife businesses allowed to reopen with COVID-19 safety measures under pilot programme

Nightlife establishments not participating in the pilot can opt to "pivot to other permissible activities", such as F&B operations, the ministries said.

Establishments would go through a simplified application process, and could apply for a grant of up to S$50,000 from Enterprise Singapore (ESG) to defray qualifying costs incurred during the pivoting process, such as equipment and third-party consultancy costs.

READ: ‘Whatever it takes’: Nightlife venues keen on reopening grapple with strict COVID-19 rules

"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," the ministries said.

Nightlife establishments pivoting to F&B must comply with safe management measures, including not employing hostesses or allowing live entertainment and games.

JAN 19, 2021: PILOT PROGRAMME DELAYED

On Jan 19, MHA and MTI announced that the pilot programme to reopen some nightclubs and karaoke outlets would be deferred until further notice, amid an increase in the number of COVID-19 community cases.

This was 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 ministries said.

READ: COVID-19: Pilot to reopen nightclubs, karaoke outlets delayed amid rise in community cases

Authorities had chosen two nightclubs and 10 karaoke outlets to participate in the pilot, which was supposed to have started that month.

Nightlife establishments that had pivoted to F&B were allowed to continue operating.

MAY 14, 2021: ENFORCEMENT STEPPED UP

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) announced on May 14 that it was stepping up enforcement to ensure nightlife operators that had pivoted to F&B complied with safe management measures.

This was because breaches by such establishments were "flagrant" and carried much greater public health risks, MSE said.

READ: Enhanced COVID-19 safe management measures for nightlife establishments pivoting to F&B operations

Some establishments continued to permit nightlife activities that were currently prohibited and flagrantly flouted safe management measures in the process, it said.

These breaches include failing to prevent large groups of patrons from intermingling, employing hostesses and allowing live entertainment and games, the ministry added.

For instance, One 4 D'Road Bar at Far East Shopping Centre allowed entry to freelance hostesses who were not employees of the bar, failed to minimise interaction between these hostesses and customers, and screened music videos to customers on May 8.

With effect from May, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) would also revoke the food licences of non-compliant former nightlife operators in the F&B industry who commit egregious breaches of safe management measures.

As of May 14, 406 nightlife operators had received SFA's food shop or snack counter licence and temporarily pivoted to F&B operations, MSE said.

JUL 12, 2021: KTV CLUSTER EMERGES

MOH first announced the KTV cluster on Monday, and said it would conduct special testing operations for all staff at Supreme KTV (Far East Shopping Centre), Empress KTV (Tanglin Shopping Centre) and Club Dolce (Balestier Point).

READ: 8 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in Singapore; employees at 3 KTV venues to be tested following infections

It would also extend free COVID-19 testing to people who had visited the above premises, similar KTV lounges or clubs operating as F&B outlets, or interacted with Vietnamese social hostesses in any setting between Jun 29 and Jul 12.

"All visitors to these premises and similar settings and those who had interacted with Vietnamese social hostesses are advised to monitor their health closely, and minimise social interactions as far as possible, for 14 days from their date of visit or interaction," MOH said.

"They are encouraged to see a doctor immediately if they feel unwell."

JUL 13: 2021: KTV CLUSTER SWELLS

The next day, MOH said the cluster had swelled to 12 cases, with epidemiological investigations revealing likely ongoing COVID-19 transmission at Club Dolce (Balestier Point), WU Bistro (Golden Mile Complex), and Club De Zara (Textile Centre).

READ: 19 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in Singapore; KTV lounge cluster grows to 12 infections

The ministry said it would also conduct special testing operations for staff of these premises, and invited those who had visited the premises or similar outlets between Jun 29 and Jul 13 to take a free COVID-19 test.

JUL 14, 2021: A FURTHER SPIKE

MOH said on Wednesday that the KTV cluster had spiked to 54 cases.

The "index case", or first reported case in the cluster, is a short-term visit pass holder from Vietnam who visited a general practitioner clinic on Jul 11 with acute respiratory infection symptoms.

READ: 56 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in Singapore; 4 more KTV lounges investigated

She was taken to a hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. Authorities then started contact tracing and epidemiological investigations, and discovered that she had frequented many KTV outlets. Some of the COVID-19 cases in the cluster lived in the same household as her.

The cases also include a passenger on a Dream Cruises ship who had tested positive on board after being identified as a close contact of a case on land. The cruise was forced to return to Singapore on Wednesday morning.

READ: Dream Cruises ship returns to Singapore after COVID-19 case on board

As contact tracing continues, Mr Ong said, authorities expect more infections linked to the cluster to emerge in the coming days.

MOH also said on Wednesday that epidemiological investigations have found likely ongoing transmission at four more KTV lounges or clubs.

The affected locations are Terminal 10 in Clarke Quay as well as One Exclusive, Level 9 and Club M, all located at 114 Middle Road.

The police also said on Jul 14 that it was investigating three KTV operators for providing "hostessing services" in breach of COVID-19 measures. The police did not name the outlets.

Twenty women of various nationalities were also arrested for their suspected involvement in vice activities at the three outlets, police said.

JUL 15, 2021: 34 MORE CASES LINKED TO CLUSTER

Thirty-four of the 42 locally transmitted cases reported on Thursday were linked to the KTV cluster, bringing the total number of infections to 88. 

The Health Ministry said epidemiological investigations have found that there is likely ongoing transmission at Las Vegas KTV and Tuberose KTV, both at 35 Selegie Road.

Parklane Shopping Mall is located at 35 Selegie Road.

The venues will be closed for two weeks and all their staff members will be tested. 

READ: 3 KTV operators under investigation for allegedly providing hostessing services; 20 women arrested

JUL 16, 2021: INDEX CASE ENTERED SINGAPORE VIA FAMILIAL TIES LANE

The KTV cluster "index case" was a Vietnamese short-term visit pass holder who entered Singapore in February 2021 via the familial ties lane, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

“According to checks by the ICA, this Vietnamese national entered Singapore in February 2021 via the familial ties lane, sponsored by a Singapore citizen who is her boyfriend,” said ICA and MOM in a joint statement.

The familial ties lane facilitates the entry of foreigners with "intimate ties" in Singapore, said the statement.

READ: First reported COVID-19 case of KTV cluster entered Singapore via familial ties lane: ICA, MOM

The authorities provided details of some of the 54 COVID-19 cases linked to the cluster as of Wednesday. Thirty of the 54 cases are non-Singaporeans.

Of the 30 non-Singaporean cases, two were permanent residents, 14 were work pass holders, one was a student’s pass holder and five were long-term visit pass holders. The remaining eight, which included the Vietnamese woman, were short-term visit pass holders.

All eight short-term visit pass holders remained in Singapore through the extension of their visit passes. 

JUL 16, 2021: OPERATIONS SUSPENDED FOR 2 WEEKS

All nightlife establishments that had pivoted to operating as food and beverage outlets will have to close for two weeks. This affects more than 400 such businesses, said MOH.

During the suspension period, all employees will be tested for COVID-19. 

READ: Nightlife industry worried about business impact, stricter rules if KTV COVID-19 cluster continues to grow

Authorities will also inspect the safe management measures at these establishments and they will only be allowed to resume F&B operations if all protocols are properly implemented.

As of Jul 16, the KTV COVID-19 cluster has grown to 120 cases.

JUL 17, 2021: POLICE SAY 27 KTVS CHECKED IN ISLANDWIDE OPERATION, 29 ARRESTED

A total of 29 women of various nationalities were arrested following an islandwide anti-crime operation by the police where 27 KTV lounges currently operating as food & beverage (F&B) outlets were checked. 

The police said 10 women, aged between 21 and 34, have had their short-term visit passes or work passes cancelled and will be deported.

These ten women were arrested together with ten other women on Jul 13 for working without a valid work pass or flouting the conditions of their work pass, added the police.

The women had served as social hostesses within three “pivoted” KTV lounges operating as F&B outlets and intermingled with different groups of patrons.

As of Jul 17, the KTV COVID-19 cluster has grown to 148 cases.

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