The Banana Leaf Apolo fined $10,000 for breaches of COVID-19 rules

The Banana Leaf Apolo restaurant at Little India. (PHOTO: Google Maps)
The Banana Leaf Apolo restaurant at Little India. (PHOTO: Google Maps)

SINGAPORE — The Banana Leaf Apolo was fined $10,000 on Wednesday (5 May) after a company representative admitted to accepting a booking for 40 persons for a birthday celebration, in violation of COVID-19 safe management measures.

The popular restaurant's outlet at Little India Arcade along Serangoon Road had even provided a sound system, projector and microphone for the celebration, which lasted four hours on 28 September last year, during Singapore's Phase Two reopening.

At the time, restaurants were permitted to operate but in accordance with COVID-19 rules. Food and beverage enterprises were barred from providing or helping to provide performances such as speech recitals. Self-service buffets were also not permitted. Large gatherings were also not allowed, with a five-person cap imposed on social gatherings.

The operator was handed five charges pertaining to the alleged offences. It pleaded guilty to two of these charges, for allowing customers to make speeches, and allowing a group beyond five individuals into its premises. Another three charges, including failing to ensure a one-metre safe distance between seated customers, providing a self-service buffet of food for consumption, and allowing the playing of a video were taken into consideration for its sentencing.

The restaurant accepted the booking on 12 September last year at the second floor of its Little India Arcade outlet.

It then set up a sound system and projector and microphone for speeches and a video montage. It also arranged a self-service buffet for the celebration, which was scheduled for 6pm to 10pm.

More than an hour into the celebration, the gathering drew the notice of Safe Distancing Ambassadors, who reported seeing a large group at the restaurant.

CCTV footage and observations by the SDAs showed that the 40 customers intermingled between tables and talked to each other throughout the event, with no safe distancing measures adhered to.

The tables and chairs were arranged in close proximity, some less than one metre apart.

During the event, two customers made speeches using the sound system provided, and a video montage was also showed. The participants also helped themselves to the food and served others.

The customers were not told to keep to regulations by staff, and the restaurant manager was not present, as he was attending to another event on the ground floor.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Koh sought a fine of at least $10,000, saying that the large group size had a potential to lead to a COVID-19 cluster if anyone were to be infected. She acknowledged that no infections arose from this case.

DPP Koh added that the restaurant had no reason to accept a single large booking for an event like a birthday party. The Banana Leaf Apolo could have clarified whether such a booking was allowed before accepting it.

She also pointed out that the restaurant had facilitated breaches by providing equipment as well.

The restaurant's general manager, who was unrepresented, told the court, "We would like to apologise for what happened and we have taken a lot of measures to ensure this doesn't happen again."

He added that the restaurant has since invited the Singapore Tourism Board to go through the changes it has made.

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