KTVs registered as F&B outlets; what investigations did authorities do when granting temporary licenses?

Following more COVID-19 cases linked to KTV lounges, the KTV cluster identified by the Ministry of Health (MOH) spiked from 12 cases on 13 July to 54 cases the next day.

MOH confirmed on Thursday (15 July) that 34 more cases were linked to the KTV cluster, which now has a total of 88 infections.

Earlier on Monday (12 July), the Ministry listed the KTV lounges that were involved, urging people who had visited those places between 29 June to 13 July to come forward for a free swab test.

Those lounges are:

  1. Supreme KTV (Far East Shopping Centre)
  2. Empress KTV (Tanglin Shopping Centre)
  3. Club Dolce (Balestier Point)
  4. WU Bistro Pte Ltd (Golden Mile Complex)
  5. Club De Zara Pte Ltd (Textile Centre)

Given the alarming rise in cases linked to the cluster, questions have started to swirl about how these stores could still operate given that nightclubs and KTVs have not been permitted to operate under the current COVID-19 regulations.

In fact, KTVs have been barred from operating since March 2020 as Singapore, like many other nations, shut down economic activities in response to the global pandemic.

Even as restrictions began to ease for various economic activities – like F&B outlets – a few months later following the end of the circuit breaker period, KTVs still had to remain closed.

Interestingly, according to information from the Accounting and Corporate Regulating Authority (ACRA), out of the five KTVs identified by MOH, three are actually registered as F&B outlets.

In fact, Club De Zara Pte Ltd is listed as a “fast food outlet”, while Club Dolce and WU Bistro are listed as a “cafés and coffee houses”.

Supreme KTV under Orchard Supreme KTV Pte Ltd, on the other hand, is listed as a karaoke lounge.

This begs the question: how come these KTVs are operating as F&B outlets?

Well, in August last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced a pilot programme for nightlife establishments to be allowed to reopen with COVID-19 safety measures.

The measures included only opening to residents and pass holders, ensuring that customers have tested negative for the virus before entering and that all customers don a mask at all times except when eating or drinking.

The ministries added that nightlife establishments not under the pilot programme could opt to “pivot to other permission activities” if they wanted to operate. They would also have to adhere to the COVID-19 measures.

That would likely explain why three of the five aforementioned KTVs are listed or converted as eateries according to ACRA – they “pivoted”.

In a twist, though, the pilot programme was actually delayed in January 2021 until further notice, amidst a rise in community cases.

The ministries said that 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.”

Nonetheless, nightlife establishments operating as F&B outlets were allowed to continue operating.

So, it does appear that at least Supreme KTV could have been operating illegally, while the other three are listed as eateries, which are in fact allowed to operate under current regulations.

To “pivot”, these establishments would have had to apply for various licenses.

As of May 2021, over 400 nightlife operators had received the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) food shop or snack counter license enabling them to temporarily pivot to F&B operations.

Beyond that, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) grants a one-year temporary conversion for outlets that have pivoted to F&B operations, subject to conditions.

With all that, given the latest series of community cases and how these cases were infected, it raises the question of whether the authorities that approved the necessary licenses had conducted any investigations into the businesses before approving them to operate as F&B outlets?

Since November last year, the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) assisted 34 KTV lounges in temporarily converting operations from nightlife venues to F&B outlets.

However, the SNBA noted that three of the venues listed by MOH as part of the new KTV cluster – Supreme KTV, Empress KTV, and Club Dolce – are not among the 34 nor are they members of the association.

Speaking to The Straits Times (ST), SNBA President Joseph Ong said that the three lounges did reach out to the association for help with applying for a grant to Enterprise Singapore in order to pivot to F&B operations.

According to Mr Ong, the three lounges ultimately decided to apply directly to the authorities instead.

F&B licenses of three KTVs revoked

Separately, the authorities have revoked the F&B licenses of three KTVs that had converted their operations. The revocation was due to breaching COVID-19 safety measures.

The three outlets are 3 Kings Pub in Lucky Plaza, DMAX in Golden Mile Tower, and Peony Garden Food House (also known as Club Diamond) at Oriental Plaza. The three outlets are expected to immediately cease operations.

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said in a statement yesterday that this is the first time that F&B outlets have had their licenses revoked for such a breach since the enhanced penalty framework was put in place in May this year.

“Unfortunately, a number of establishments continue to operate nightlife activities which are currently prohibited, including employing hostesses or permitting freelance hostesses to serve and drink with multiple groups of customers,” said MSE.

“Others have also flagrantly flouted safe management measures in the process.”

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