Singapore races to find guests, hostesses in karaoke lounge virus cluster

Singapore races to find guests, hostesses in karaoke lounge virus cluster

People who had visited a mall which became a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cluster, queue up for their swab tests in Singapore May 20, 2021.

REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea have also suffered outbreaks traced to bars and clubs since the pandemic began

Singapore was racing on Thursday, July 15, to find people linked to a growing cluster of COVID-19 infections that were traced to KTV lounges in a fresh outbreak that has prompted a wider crackdown on vice and nightspots breaking social distancing rules.

The city state of 5.7 million people has been largely successful in preventing the spread of virus, but the advent of the highly infectious Delta variant has heightened concern.

The 56 new local cases reported on Wednesday was the highest daily tally in 10 months, and three-quarters of them were traced to KTV clubs. Singapore reported another 42 cases on Thursday, with the bulk again linked to the cluster.

Bars and nightclubs have been shut in Singapore for over a year, but some KTV lounges are allowed to operate as just food and beverage outlets, without providing hostess services or dice games.

The bars at the center of the latest COVID scare, however, were allegedly operating illegally and there was a risk they could become a “very big cluster,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told a media briefing on Wednesday.

KTV lounges have a reputation in Singapore as venues for vice activities, such as prostitution and gambling. Three KTV operators are under police investigation for flouting safe management measures and for providing hostess services.

“It reflects that the darker areas in the society will always show up the most number of cases of COVID,” said infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam.

The bars’ shady reputation made it likely that some patrons could be reluctant to admit frequenting them, despite the COVID scare, though 100 customers had come forward for testing by Wednesday.

“This will certainly deter patrons and hostesses involved from coming forward,” said Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea have all suffered outbreaks traced to bars and clubs since the pandemic began.

The first known case from the KTV cluster in Singapore was a Vietnamese woman who sought medical help on Sunday for COVID-19 symptoms.

The government has appealed to guests who recently visited any KTV lounge or interacted with a hostess to get tested, promising that privacy would be protected.

Singapore police said on Wednesday night they had arrested 20 women, among them South Koreans, Malaysians, Thai, and Vietnamese, for alleged vice activities at KTV lounges.

It was unclear what action would be taken against the bars customers if they were found to have broken Singapore’s rules on social gatherings.

Previously locals have been fined or jailed, while foreigners have been stripped of their employment visas for breaching quarantine of breaking strict rules on public gatherings.

Ong said there were no plans to reverse recently loosened restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, citing progress in vaccinations, with about 42% of people in Singapore having received both doses, and more than 70% having had at least one dose.

This week, Singapore began allowing five people to dine out together instead of just two, and there are plans to relax restrictions further at the end of this month. –

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