Enforcement is 'cat and mouse' game, agencies stretched: Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE — While enforcement efforts will be ramped up in the wake of the ongoing KTV lounges/clubs cluster, it remains a "cat and mouse" game, with illegal gatherings taking place in many other settings too, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday (16 July).

"(Illegal gatherings have) happened at homes. It has happened in hotels. It has happened in restaurants. It has happened even in warehouses. So, I assure you, the enforcement agencies are stretched," said Wong, who was addressing reporters at a virtual press conference.

He later added, "(Enforcement) operations have been mounted across multiple venues, over the past year and a half. Each time we find someone, we will pursue and take very firm and tough enforcement action against anyone that breaches the rules."

Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) on COVID-19, was responding to a question on why sufficient enforcement efforts had not been mounted to prevent the KTV cluster. A reporter pointed out that illegal nightlife gatherings in Singapore during the pandemic are not new, with some incidents taking place at Golden Mile Complex last year.

The KTV cluster has now been linked to some 120 cases, making it the biggest active cluster here as well as the largest recorded cluster in the community to date. Earlier, the MTF noted that several nightlife establishments that had been allowed to pivot into F&B operations had abused the system by operating clandestine and illegal activities.

'Cat and mouse' game

Following up, Yahoo News Singapore asked what efforts were being made to address the shortfall in enforcement agencies. For example, would more enforcement officers be hired?

In response, Wong noted that agencies have already been beefed up by safe distancing ambassadors (SDAs) as the first line of defence. As they cannot carry out enforcement, they pave the way for the agencies.

"But you can appreciate that each time you do an enforcement check, there is a little bit of cat and mouse going on, because the enforcement officers come in, the people who are breaking the rules will be on the lookout, they see someone coming in and then they may start to adjust, and respond accordingly."

These special operations are sometimes carried out via undercover mystery shoppers and plainclothes officers, and have been mounted over the past 18 months, said Wong.

But the minister warned, "The more we behave badly and break the rules, it will be a never-ending spiral. Enforcement agencies have to keep on doing more, and then more bad behaviour, and we keep on doing more, and then it never stops."

"The consequence of every single action can be so consequential now – as we have seen, one single irresponsible behaviour can have devastating impact for the entire community."

Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore

Related stories:

COVID: Dine-in to be scaled back to groups of 2 from 19 July

COVID: Over 400 nightlife venues that pivoted into F&B suspended