'Individual responsibility' outweighs enforcement in fighting COVID: Police, MSE

·Editorial Team
·3-min read
(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — Enforcement against irresponsible behaviour is just one tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with individual responsibility playing a far greater role, said the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE). 

"There is a limit to what enforcement can achieve. Business operators and patrons must play their part, and abide by the SMMs put in place. Individual responsibility is more important and in fact, the most effective and sustainable means for us to overcome COVID-19," said the two agencies in a joint statement on Tuesday (20 July). 

The statement comes in the wake of the Jurong Fishery Port/Hong Lim Market & Food Centre cluster, the largest cluster with 321 cases ever reported in Singapore's community, while the KTV lounges/club cluster is the second largest with 207 cases as of Tuesday. The two clusters are linked, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday in a Facebook post.

On Tuesday, Singapore announced that it will return to its Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures and ban dine-in at food and beverage (F&B) establishments from Thursday (22 July) to 18 August, in order to manage the spike in COVID-19 community cases.

SPF and MSE noted that in October 2020, nightlife operators were allowed to pivot to F&B quickly and revert to their usual operations when the nightlife sector is able to reopen. To date, over 400 nightlife establishment operators have received the Singapore Food Agency's (SFA) food-shop or snack counter licence and temporarily pivoted to F&B operations. 

"Many of these pivoted establishments have fully complied with the requirements. Others, disappointingly, have not been responsible," said the agencies. 

Issues of enforcement

Questions have been raised as to how the KTV joints were able to operate in breach of safe management measures (SMM) while F&B outlets have been heavily policed. 

In response to a query from Yahoo News Singapore, Finance Minister and co-chair of the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19 (MTF) Lawrence Wong said last Friday that enforcement remains a "cat and mouse" game, with illegal gatherings taking place in many other settings too.

On Tuesday, SPF and MSE noted that pubs, bars, nightclubs, discotheques and karaoke lounges –collectively known as nightlife establishments – have not been allowed to operate in their original form since March 2020, as the nature of their activities poses a significantly higher risk of COVID transmission.

"Government agencies have conducted daily enforcement checks on F&B outlets, as well as pivoted nightlife establishments since they were allowed to reopen in October 2020," said the two agencies. 

Multiple enforcement operations

From October 2020 to 10 July 2021, Police conducted a total of 202 operations against licensed public entertainment outlets, including pivoted outlets, as well as against unlicensed public entertainment outlets. The latter outlets were operating in locations such as industrial estates, office units, and shophouses. 

A total of 540 checks on such outlets were conducted in these operations, following which 142 persons were arrested for various offences including the Public Entertainments Act, Liquor Control Act, Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and Immigration Act.

Separately, joint enforcement operations involving various personnel have also been conducted over 20 weekends and all festive periods since October 2020. Around 400 F&B outlets, including pivoted nightlife establishments were inspected in each operation. 

To date, agencies have imposed around 100 closure orders on F&B outlets, including around 40 pivoted establishments, with around 10 repeat offenders. The operators also face further enforcement action including fines and prosecution in court. 

"Since tightening our penalty regime in May 2021, SFA has also permanently revoked the licence of three pivoted establishments, and, pending investigations, could revoke four more. Breaches by pivoted nightlife establishments account for the vast majority of repeated egregious breaches," said SPF and MSE, adding that government agencies will continue to carry out enforcement actions against errant outlets.

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