COVID-19: Phase 3 may begin year-end but nightlife venues unlikely to reopen then

WATCH: Multi-ministry taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong explains the nightlife industry’s situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic

SINGAPORE — Bars, karaoke lounges and night clubs, which have been shuttered since March, are not expected to resume operations even as Singapore enters Phase 3 of reopening, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (20 October).

He revealed, during the virtual press conference chaired by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce, that Singapore could enter Phase 3 as early as before the end of the year, contingent on several factors.

“(It) really depends on all of us, because if we work together, cooperate and comply with the requirements and the measures, then we can keep community transmission rates low,” he added.

But Wong, who co-chairs the taskforce, said that the nightlife sector has been identified as one with a “higher risk setting” due to the nature of its activities by authorities, where large clusters have had broken out in such settings overseas.

“You have people socialising in close contact, often in a small enclosed space, and the risk is very much higher,” he explained. “So, even at the start of Phase 3, when we enter Phase 3, we do not expect to reopen these or resume these activities anytime soon.”

Nevertheless, he said the government is prepared to consider a few limited pilot schemes where some of the venues can operate albeit with “much more stringent” safe management measures in place.

It will also roll out a raft of assistance measures to help the nightlife industry during this period, and these will “enable business operators and owners to exit transit and pivot to new areas”. Details of the measures will be announced separately.

He noted, “But the basic point is that we do not expect the nightlife industry to be able to reopen or to be able to go back to what it used to be anytime soon.”

When asked what sort of stringent measures the pilot schemes might entail, Wong said they could include testing of customers before they enter the premise – using a rapid test kit – and ensuring that all the prevailing safe measurement measures are implemented within the premises, which means that people cannot intermingle.

“Music cannot be loud. There is already a prevailing music level in F&B (outlets) that will have to be exercised similarly in the sectors,” said Wong, adding that CCTVs might be used to ensure compliance with such measures at all times.

These are some examples of measures that may be piloted as authorities are still in discussions with players in the nightlife industry, he added.

“Based on the pilots, we will consider whether it is safe to proceed. And it's also for the industry itself to consider whether it's viable to proceed. Because with all these measures in place, a dance club may not sound like a dance club anymore.”

‘Good chance’ of Phase 3 by year-end, if conditions met

When Wong was asked if there were specific goals leading to the next phase of re-opening, he outlined three factors which will allow Singapore “a good chance” of moving to Phase 3: a higher take-up rate of the TraceTogether (TT) programme, which helps facilitate contact tracing; wider deployment of the programme – together with Safe Entry – across popular venues; and a continued low rate of community transmission.

While some 2.5 million people, or about 45 per cent of the population, have already signed up to TraceTogether, authorities are aiming for 70 per cent, he added.

Authorities will also deploy more TT-only Safe Entry checks at public venues, where people must record their visit either through the TT app or its token.

By end-December, checking in with the app or token will be mandatory at all widely visited venues, including restaurants, workplaces, schools, and shopping malls.

Members of the public will not be able to enter these places by scanning SafeEntry QR codes with their phone cameras, or via the SingPass mobile app or barcodes on ICs.

He added, “So when we do have a higher take-up rate of TraceTogether and wider deployment of TT-only safe entry, I think those conditions will help in allowing us to enter Phase 3.”

During Phase 3, group size for gatherings in public venues could increase from the present five persons to eight, said Health Minister and taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong. The number of visitors allowed to visit homes could also similarly be increased from five to eight.

“We know that interactions in large groups carry inherent risks, and could easily result in a super-spreading events and large clusters. We will therefore continue to set limits on group sizes, both in public spaces as well as visitors to homes,” he added.

Events like congregational worship services and wedding receptions, which can presently be held in two zones of 50 persons each, could be increased to multiple zones of 50 persons each, subject to limitations on the capacity of the venue.

Such measures would be implemented progressively, said Gan.

Authorities have also announced that from now till December, they will pilot the use of COVID-19 pre-event rapid antigen tests for large-scale and high-risk activities, such as business-to-business events and wedding receptions. Only participants who test negative will be allowed to participate in these events.

“This does not mean that we can throw caution to the wind and ignore safe management measures at these events. In fact, despite the tests, there is always a possibility that an infected person may not be detected,” said Gan.

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