Nightclubs and karaoke outlets hope to make some noise soon
Nightlife Business chief says talks on reopening positive, as vaccinations are ramped up and local cases fall
It has been more than 15 months since nightclubs and karaoke outlets went silent, forced to shut after coronavirus infections first surged in Singapore.
There was some hope in November last year when a pilot programme was mooted for two nightclubs and 10 karaoke outlets to reopen, but this was put on hold in January after a spike in cases.
The nightlife industry has been brought to its knees because of the pandemic, but there is some hope now with Singapore's vaccination programme ramped up and community infections down to a trickle.
Responding to queries from The New Paper, a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said last Friday: "Last month, the multi-ministry task force announced that Singapore's vaccination programme will be accelerated.
"As the vaccination programme progresses, restrictions on higher-risk settings such as nightclubs and karaoke outlets could be eased if the public health situation remains stable."
These plans are part of a broader road map that the Government is developing and will be announced in due course, the spokesman added.
Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) president Joseph Ong told TNP that recent talks with authorities on reopening have been positive.
He said: "We have been working to restart the pilot programmes that will show nightlife establishments are able to resume operations in a safe way and the industry is feeling relatively optimistic now, after a long period of being in the dark."
Since the pandemic hit, the SNBA has received requests from more than 940 nightclubs, bars and karaoke lounges for help to pivot to other forms of operations such as food and beverage or even to exit the industry. To date, 381 have pivoted while 285 have closed.
The pilot programme proposed in November had strict rules. Those wanting to enter a club or karaoke outlet would have to show proof of having taken a Covid-19 test in the last 24 hours.
Clubs that were part of the pilot would have a capacity limit of 100 people, with customers having to wear masks on the dance floor. Only groups of five would be allowed in enclosed rooms in karaoke establishments, and the rooms would have to be cleaned, disinfected and aired for 15 minutes between groups.
With an average of 2.4 local infections over the last seven days in the country - zero cases on Saturday and one yesterday - Mr Ong is hoping there will be more leeway this time around.
He said: "We are hoping that given the current situation where we have the vaccine and better testing capabilities, and the number of Covid-19 cases are lower, operations can resume under more relaxed restrictions."
Earlier this month, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung indicated two milestones for further easing of nationwide measures: the second half of this month when half of the population would have been fully vaccinated, and National Day (Aug 9), when two-thirds of residents would have received both jabs.
Mr Frank Per, who owns Sing My Song Family Karaoke, hopes the reopening can coincide with these milestones.
His unit at Paya Lebar Quarter Mall is now an F&B outlet but he is hoping to pivot back.
Mr Per said he is operating at a loss right now and added: "Rental is a big issue, which we are still forking out monthly. Some staff are looking for full-time positions elsewhere, so it may be harder to rehire later.
"If it takes too long, say we are allowed to reopen only at the end of the year or next year, you are going to see many karaoke businesses exit the industry and more jobs lost."
Despite trying their hand at other businesses, operators here are eager to return to what they know best.
Ms Francesca Way, co-founder of A Phat Cat Collective, which runs club Nineteen80 and Rails, a lounge, said: "Even with pivoting to a food-centric business model, our club-mode rents and overheads have not changed and many during this time are barely scraping through."
She believes clubs can adapt to a new normal where the virus is treated as endemic.
This can start in a progressive manner, with measures like extending the alcohol curfew to midnight and deejaying without a dancefloor.
Ms Way added: "Nightlife and festivals have opened up successfully in places such as New Zealand and Shanghai, and we believe a safe resumption is possible with some amendments to how clubs previously operated."