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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 16 July 2021

16 Jul 2021
Good afternoon everyone. I think we are all very disappointed by the latest setback in the flare-up of cases that we have seen amongst KTV outlets. We have, and we will continue to take firm action against the few errant operators who have abused the system, and undertaken illegal activities. 

Perhaps it's useful to take a step back and recall how we had this group of pivoted F&B operators. Remember, we had closed all such nightlife establishments since the circuit breaker last year. Subsequently the Nightlife Association had appealed to the Government to be given a lifeline. We offered them a grant for operators to exit the industry entirely. A few took up the grant, but many operators chose to pivot to other commercial operations. Some became cinemas, gyms, but quite a number took up F&B dining. So, we have, following from that episode, about 400 nightlife establishments that are operating as F&B outlets today. 

Unfortunately, there are a few that have flouted the rules, as I said we will take firm action against them. But, as an additional precaution, we will also suspend all of the pivoted establishments for two weeks. During this two-week period, we will test the staff and workers; we will inspect all of their safe management measures and protocols, and we will allow them to resume only after we are satisfied that safe management measures are well in place. I think the onus is very much now on the Nightlife Association and its members to show us that they can get their act together and behave properly.

Some have also asked why the hostesses were allowed to travel into Singapore. In fact, these ladies were in Singapore earlier, either on valid work permits – work passes or visit passes – sponsored by Singaporeans. For example, the index case was sponsored by her boyfriend, a Singaporean, and at that time, Vietnam was a low risk country. We had unilateral opening for Vietnam travellers. So she came in, sponsored by her boyfriend on a visit pass. In fact, these visit passes are typically for family reasons and the arrivals were tested - it’s clear they didn't bring in the virus as DMS mentioned just now - so they caught the virus while in Singapore. How and exactly what happened, it's probably through one of the cryptic cases that still has been circulating within the community, but they caught it in Singapore, and that's how it spread through the rest of the KTV operations. The problem that arises is that these passholders, seemingly on valid passes, work passes or social visit passes, have breached the rules by moonlighting as hostesses. So we will take enforcement action against them, and also against any local sponsors of these passes who may not have given accurate information to ICA in their applications. We will also step up testing and tracing operations as best as we can to try and contain the transmission in the community and you heard just now from Minister Ong Ye Kung, how we are setting up multiple rings of testing, and we will be sending out SMS alerts for different groups of people. Some will have to be tested on a mandatory basis; some will be issued an advisory and asked to monitor their health, and then buy a self-test kit and test yourself regularly.

Besides, our extensive testing and tracing operations, we will have to make some adjustments to our wider community measures, and these moves will apply from 19 July to 8 August, for three weeks. Why are we doing this? Because there is a real risk that the cases from these clusters would have spread to the community, especially if there are individuals who have not come forward for testing – and we suspect there are such individuals – and they would have spread the virus to the people around them. Potentially, this means that we can see very large clusters emerging over the coming weeks. 

In the past, under such a circumstance, we probably would have tried to contain as much as possible, the clusters from breaking out with a very stringent tightening of measures, almost like a circuit breaker. But the difference today is that we have a much higher vaccination rate, and therefore, we do not, at this moment, think there is a need for such significant tightening.

Instead, we will take a more targeted approach, and adjust our measures based on vaccination status, and also with an eye to the hospitalisation and ICU capacity in our system. So, the measures are as follows: for higher risk indoor mask-off settings like F&B dining and gyms, the group sizes will be back down to two persons. Effectively, we will be going back to the position we were in before 12 July. But if the group consists of fully vaccinated persons, then we will allow the group size of five persons to continue, because fully vaccinated persons are better protected against the infection, and are less likely to infect others. For those who are not fully vaccinated and you want to join the group of five, we will allow, if you have met a pre-entry test – you have been tested, you are negative – or you are someone who had been infected before and fully recovered and therefore you have immunity. So, these will be considered as part of the fully vaccinated persons, and they will be part of the group of five. This allowance for five people together who are fully vaccinated will only be for establishments with mandatory SafeEntry systems in place, so that they can monitor, and check the vaccination status of the customers. Of course, we appreciate that some families will want to dine together, and they have children, who are below 12 years old, who are not eligible for vaccination. So we will allow unvaccinated children below the age of 12 to be part of the group of five, if they are all from the same household. If the children are not from the same household, then they will be allowed to be part of the group of five, but they will be subject to a cap. The cap is that they cannot be exceeding half of the group size. So that's the targeted approach we will take with regard to group sizes.

For workplaces, very minimal change, work from home remains the default, but we will not allow social gatherings. We had earlier from 12 July allowed for social gatherings in the workplace, subject to prevailing rules in the community, but now we will remove that allowance and therefore, no more social gatherings in the workplace. For other settings, the measures remain unchanged. In particular, we will not change the rules and regulations around wedding receptions because wedding receptions, many of the attendees will be subject to a pre-event test, so we will allow that to continue and we also are mindful that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for the wedding couple. We would like to minimise any disruptions to their plans.

The measures that I have described will have an impact on some affected sectors. Earlier, I had announced an extension of the Jobs Support Scheme of 10%, from 12 to 25 July. We will now extend this support to 8 August for F&B businesses, gyms, fitness studios, performing arts organisations and arts education centres. To provide more targeted support for eligible hawkers who are self-employed, we will extend the rental waivers and subsidies for fees for table cleaning and centralised dish washing services by one month.

Finally, I think the latest outbreak shows us how individual choices can so easily affect the wider community. I think it underscores the importance of individual and social responsibility in fighting this pandemic. I'm very heartened that, aside from the few who have flouted the rules, the vast majority of people in Singapore have cooperated with the measures that we have put in place. And I have every confidence that, working together, we will be able to recover from this setback, and get back on track with our reopening plans. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely, as you heard just now from my fellow co-chairs; it is fluid, we have to watch very carefully, not just the infection numbers, but more importantly, our hospitalisation and ICU capacity, and at the same time continue to ramp up vaccination. So let us continue to work together and overcome this setback together. Thank you.