Nightlife businesses relieved at being able to reopen, but face ‘mad rush’ in getting ready
SINGAPORE: After more than two years of restrictions, nightlife businesses are relishing the prospect of reopening, unfazed by the logistics of having to implement more safety measures.
Authorities said on Monday (Apr 4) that all nightlife businesses, including clubs and karaoke establishments, will be allowed to fully reopen from Apr 19.
But they will be subject to similar safe management measures as other establishments, including mandatory mask-wearing indoors and safe distancing of at least 1m between individuals and groups when masks are off.
Patrons must also test negative on a supervised antigen rapid test (ART) if the place offers dancing among patrons as an intended activity. It must be supervised either in-person or remotely by a test provider approved by the Health Ministry.
The news about reopening was “a huge relief” to Zouk Group’s chief executive officer, Andrew Li. “We’ve been waiting to hear about this news for over two years now.
"We've had the industry closed for probably longer than most other countries and cities around the world, and so, I'm just so happy.”
The extent to which businesses were allowed to reopen was also a pleasant surprise, said Mr Joseph Ong, the managing director of 1-Group, which runs several bars and clubs.
Ms Jean Teo, a director at family karaoke chain Teo Heng, added: “I thought it’d still be quite a long process regarding the relaxation of (COVID-19 measures).
"We didn’t expect it to happen so fast, it was really unexpected and we are so happy about it.”
WILL EXTRA REQUIREMENTS PUT OFF CUSTOMERS?
For nightlife businesses where dancing is involved, Mr Ong acknowledged that patrons may be put off by the extra need for tests.
“But the reality is that when we consider a club, especially one that has dance floor where different people are intermingling and you don't even know who they are – it does pose a very real risk (of transmission).
“Unless we can really be very clear about how we can trace the risk, the necessity for a test is always there.”
The Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) echoed this, adding that these requirements “will probably be eased once the COVID-19 situation stabilises in the future”.
In any case, Singaporeans are already quite “accustomed” to testing requirements, it said.
Zouk’s Mr Li added that the pent-up demand for nightlife will also create a wave of “revenge going out”.
“So in the beginning, yes, (testing) will be a hassle, but I think people will kind of get past that because it's been so long.”
The fact that an ART is allowed, instead of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, is also a step in the right direction, he said.
“Honestly speaking, I think we can make it work ... We can (still) make an enjoyable experience for guests."
Mr Ong from 1-Group added that clubs can even consider getting licensed providers to set up testing stations outside the premises.
As for karaoke establishments like Teo Heng, safe management measures will be similar to those for F&B establishments – such as how masks must be worn except when eating and drinking.
“(These) will not deter people’s interest to come back and sing … I think everyone has accepted this is new normal already so I’m quite confident there won’t be an issue," Ms Teo said.
“MAD RUSH” TO PREPARE FOR REOPENING
With two weeks to go before they can reopen, businesses are scrambling to get their operations in order.
Since Monday afternoon, Teo Heng has already received more than 100 calls about reservations and enquiries, said Ms Teo.
“The machines have not been used for two years, the microphones, everything, so we need to do a check to make sure they can still be used, if not we need to do some replacements."
She added that the company, which operated as an office space during the pandemic, must also apply to change its licence to operate as a karaoke lounge again.
For 1-Group’s Mr Ong, regulatory technicalities need to be ironed out amid the company’s plans to revive one of their spaces, The Riverhouse, as a club.
“There are different clubs with different licences to do different kinds of clubbing activities or bar activities, so we need to finalise what these licences’ requirements are.”
He is also uncertain if constraints under previous nightlife pilots will continue – such as whether private rooms will be allowed to reopen, and whether cameras in various areas are still required.
For Zouk, ramping up manpower in two weeks will be one of its biggest challenges.
It currently has about 30 to 40 per cent of the manpower strength it used to have when club operations were in full swing.
“The last two years have been incredibly tough. We used to have staff that used to handle 1,200 people but right now, we're lucky if we had 120 people in the restaurant (before the rules were relaxed).”
The club will also have to see if “it makes sense to continue” with current partnerships, such as one with a fitness studio that uses its premises for spin classes.
The SNBA also noted this “mad rush” for companies, who have two weeks to ensure operations, furniture, wiring, manpower and other elements are good to go.
But it added: “Nevertheless, it’s a happy problem which operators are most willing to go through.”