The recent KTV cluster is Singapore’s newest cause for concern in its fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic, with a total of 88 cases linked to the cluster reported as of Thursday (15 July).
This does not come as a surprise as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan have had similar outbreaks stemming from night entertainment venues.
However, Singapore is aware of such risks and has consequently banned the operations of such venues since last year.
Following an improvement in the COVID-19 situation in Singapore, nightlife venues that were not included in a pilot programme were allowed to temporarily “pivot” their business to the food and beverage category since October 2020.
The pilot programme was actually delayed in January 2021 until further notice, amid a rise in community cases.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the delay 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”.
However, the recent rise of cases from the KTV clusters and the purported activities that take place in the venues raise eyebrows on how the businesses were even allowed to operate as they did, even if they were licensed as F&B outlets.
Some have questioned the issuance of permits by the authorities, while some questioned the issuance of short-term passes for the hostesses.
All these questions may or may not have a straight answer. But what is certain is that an after-action review (AAR) is not going to give the public the frank answers that they want.
Just last week, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh asked in Parliament if a Commission of Inquiry (COI) will be convened on the government’s COVID-19 response after the pandemic is over, as previously mentioned by the People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders.
However, the answer provided by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean is that there will not be a COI — instead, an AAR will likely be put in place.
Teo’s clarification on the AAR notes that it would be more of a “broad-ranging” feedback mechanism than an inquisitory one.
This would mean that those involved in matters intended to be probed will not be cross-examined in court by judges — something that the COI would have afforded.
It appears that through this move, the government will just be gathering feedback and issuing responses whenever and whatever they want to.
As Teo pointed out, the pandemic is not over — and it is certainly clear from the formation of the KTV cluster that COVID-19 is far from being eradicated in the country.
Yet, this incident and its aftermath may not inspire confidence in the public, who may perceive that a lack of a COI would mean that the authorities will not be held accountable for any lapses on their end as Singapore continues to battle the spread of the virus among the population.