It’s the year 2022 and KTVs in the nightlife sector are still unable to operate as per normal in Singapore ever since Covid-19 arrived.
Coupled with higher difficulty in complying and higher risk of transmission, these establishments have been according to Teo Heng KTV’s boss “the biggest victims of the pandemic”.
The family KTV operator which used to run 14 stores across Singapore in its heyday, is closing another outlet this year and will be left with three outlets located at Causeway Point, JCube, and Suntec City.
The boss is even contemplating shutting down the entire business temporarily and reopening only when the pandemic is over. At the moment, the business has pivoted its KTV branches and reopened its rooms for customers to “work, dine, and chill”.
It’s also focusing on selling karaoke sets and other services such as singing and massage classes.
Are KTVs dead? The rise of underground singing establishments
Is this the end for KTVs? Is the pandemic ever going to be over? Or rather, will we ever see the end of the pandemic if we are now told to “live” with the virus.
Actually, KTVs are not dead, they’ve only gone underground. Ask some of my more “clubber” friends and that’s what they tell me off the record, but I’ve not gone to any of those intermingling activities for the fear of my own health.
Early this year, the Singapore Police Force reported that a total of 187 people are being investigated for breaches under the Public Entertainments Act, Liquor Control Act, and Covid-19 regulations.
The checks took place between Dec 12, 2021, and Jan 23, 2022, and were carried out on 103 public entertainment and nightlife outlets.
Among those, there was a landed property at Beng Wan Road found with unlicensed KTV. The police found seven men and three women aged between 20 and 47 gathering for dinner and a singalong session. The owner was a 28-year-old man.
The owner was running a commercial and food and beverage operation and providing public entertainment without the required licences.
He was selling private dining packages and the provision of karaoke equipment.
Another group of 49 people gathered in an unlicensed “KTV concept” outlet at an office/industrial building located along Lorong 23 Geylang. The scene included private rooms equipped with karaoke systems, speakers, and microphones. There were also hostesses at the scene.
The penalty for supplying liquor and providing public entertainment without a valid licence each carries a fine of up to S$20,000.
Individuals can be jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both, if they do not comply with safe distancing rules under Covid-19 measures.
The laws are strict and penalties will be harsh for offenders. So why are some Singaporeans bent on flouting the law with non-compliance with the safe distancing measures even after the Covid-19 cluster scare on KTVs earlier last year?
Unfortunately, the total clampdown on KTVs has led to some bad actors rebelling against the decision by the authorities and some creating underground activities to appeal to errant individuals.
Perhaps the ruling may have been onerous to some, who frequent such places for normal, post-work entertainment. But could this clampdown lead to more illegal activities occurring because some operators are trying to find a lifeline to get some income?
Reopening of nightlife sector “in the works”
Thankfully, the measures are set to ease in the near term, which will likely diffuse the rise of underground KTVs.
In the press conference on Singapore’s reopening last week (March 24), co-chair of the multi-ministry taskforce Lawrence Wong said that the government has not decided to reopen the nightlife sector just yet but would like to see the reopening of the sector in due course.
This comes as some measures such as the lifting of the 10.30pm alcohol sale and consumption ban from March 29, 2022, were announced as the country reopens.
Wong had said that singing will be permitted in groups at congregations and schools, but for nightlife establishments, it will take some time for the Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted.
These establishments that have public entertainment licences are “not only of higher risk of transmission but have higher difficulty in complying” he explained.
“We would like to see the reopening of the sector…and will announce later plans on reopening these establishments.” The minister referenced bars, pubs, nightclubs, and karaoke places as nightlife establishments.
Should we reopen the less seedy KTVs first as pilots?
Taking a look at the less seedy KTV places like Party World, Teo Heng, and Family KTV, some might question whether there could be a way for these establishments to get the green light first in reopening their karaoke business operations.
Although there might be some preferential treatment given and some might cry foul to the idea, we need to note that there is not always a one size fits all solution for all problems in the business community. For example, certain hawker centres also have stricter Covid-19 measures compared to other eateries due to their ventilation space and seating arrangement.
For one, KTVs like Teo Heng are usually located within malls, which allows patrons to do their proper Safe Entry checks. The operating hours for these outlets are usually not too late in the night too, due to them being in malls.
The traffic is also controlled as there will be mall cameras to track any suspicious activities.
As these KTVs are catered to families, the civic-mindedness in proper behaviour, maintaining Covid-19 measures, will likely be observed.
The government has relaxed the Covid-19 measures to 10 per group and if the KTV rooms have the capacity to accommodate, it could potentially work. But it is clear that customers will have to either mask up most of the time even while singing and operators will have to clean each room rigorously after each session.
Since customers can dine out in larger groups, as long as they meet the requirements such as being fully vaccinated and not showing symptoms, the idea of gathering in a decent KTV room would not be that different.
Certainly, there needs to be more fine-tuning of how this can work, but operators who cater to families are most likely to comply with the rules and follow them.
For seedier KTVs who wish to convert to serve families, the government can monitor and approve them on a case-by-case basis, and conduct daily checks if they have the resources to do so.
NO to home KTVs: spare a thought for those who work from home
These days, KTV operators are coming up with home KTV sets to sell, as a way to compensate for their income loss. I think authorities need to consider the noise hazard home KTVs contribute to the neighbourhood.
Some homes do not have the proper soundproofing walls set up and many times when some individuals croon to their favourite tunes, they may go off pitch. Imagine listening to your neighbours crooning the same song for hours and going off pitch, how much mental distress that must cause to the block!
More people are heading back to work, but there are still a large group of workers who are working from home or working part-time to care for their family and children.
For the sanity of the workforce who are working from home, it would be best to keep the KTV sets to where they are supposed to be and allow KTV enthusiasts an approved space to belt out their favorite tunes, with soundproof walls surrounding them, of course.
Featured Image Credit: Teo Heng KTV