Some nightlife establishments in Singapore will be allowed to reopen under a two-month pilot programme, with mandatory safety measures in place such as requiring customers to show proof of having taken a COVID-19 test 24 hours prior to entering the venue.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced last Friday (6 November) that there will be a pilot programme involving a small number of nightlife establishments, with strict management measures in place.
It stated that the pilot for pubs and bars is expected to commence by next month, while karaoke lounges and nightclubs will begin by January next year.
Following that, the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) said at a press conference on Monday (9 Nov) that about 25 nightlife establishments will be allowed to reopen as part of the pilot programme.
The 25 slots could be allocated to 10 pubs and bars, 10 karaoke lounges and five nightclubs, said SNBA.
It noted that nightclubs and karaoke lounges that are part of the pilot will be open only to local residents and those with work passes, as well as those who have taken COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours.
Pubs and bars, however, will be subject to the same rules as restaurants, in which customers are not required to take a COVID-19 test.
Karaoke lounges will be allowed to have groups of up to five people within enclosed rooms which will have to be cleaned and disinfected after every use. Eating and drinking will be allowed within the rooms.
For clubs under the programme, they will have a capacity limit of up to 100 people across two separate zones – dancing and dining zones – that can each hold 50 people. Floor markings and physical barriers will help to ensure that customers stay two metres apart from other groups.
SNBA noted that live entertainment and performances will be prohibited in clubs. Additionally, no hosts will be allowed to interact with customers in both types of venues.
However, the association stressed that these safety measures are not final.
SNBA president Joseph Ong said that the pilot programmes are “just tests” and “should not be regarded as an alternative for the operators to reopen”.
“The chances are low that they will be selected, and the trial requires extreme planning and care,” he told reporters.
As for the costs of the COVID-19 tests, Mr Ong noted that business operators may not be able to absorb the cost and therefore will have to pass the costs on to customers.
“We are hoping that whoever comes to us with proposals for the pilot takes into account that customers are likely going to have to absorb the cost of the tests,” he said.
Mr Ong added that SNBA will also look into partnering with clinics and medical centres to reduce the costs.
It is reported that SNBA is in talks with the authorities to extend the deadline of applications to 23 November, while the applications are set to open from tomorrow (11 November) to Sunday (15 Novembr).
The MTI and the MHA will decide on which establishments to select for the pilot.
Meanwhile, the ministries had earlier announced measures supporting businesses seeking to pivot to permissible activities or to exit the nightlife industry.
This includes a grant of up to SS$50,000 to defray the costs incurred during the pivoting process, which can be used to cover the costs of equipment and third-party consultancies.
Those seeking to exit the industry can apply for an ex-gratia payment of S$30,000 to defray the costs of the cessation of business.
The applications for the relevant grants to pivot or exit will open until 31 March next year, said the ministries.
It also stated that business operators are required to submit completed claims forms and documents to prove the business closure, and surrender all operating permits by 30 June next year.
“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,” the ministries stated.
“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,” it added.
Netizens say “it makes no sense” that customers need to undergo COVID-19 test and pay the cost
Many netizens, however, seem to disagree with the government’s decision to reopen nightlife establishments under the pilot programme while the global pandemic is still ongoing.
Penning their thoughts under the comment section of CNA’s Facebook post on the matter, many netizens highlighted “it makes no sense” that customers are required to take COVID-19 test each time they wish to enter nightspots and bear the cost of doing so.
Some netizens pointed out that the swab test will cost more than the fees spent in the nightspots.