Could the KTV cluster have been prevented? I am not sure but it has definitely exposed possible weak links in our immigration and law enforcement agencies during this Covid-19 pandemic period. They could have done better.
The problem is not so straightforward. Should the state be put in the position to dictate human behaviour, including activities linked to the world’s oldest profession? And is it entirely possible to monitor every infringement where willing seller meets willing buyer and no one is complaining? For heaven’s sake, this is not Disneyland, it is the real imperfect world. This is also not Siberia. It is a global city at a world crossroads, right smack where people of every ilk and ethnic origin meet. Absolute control of people movement is not possible. There will always be leakages.
Unfortunately, we are now feeling the butterfly effect of such a leakage. And it is multiple.
On Sunday morning (July 18), the KTV cluster stood at 148 cases. And it is likely to grow with all the urgent and intensive investigations, tests and contact tracing.
The sudden emergence of the cluster has delayed the easing of Covid-19 restrictions when it was going fairly well.
Businesses will suffer because member s of the public will definitely take the cue from the Multi-Ministry Task Force and stay at home. They will not take unnecessary risks since no one knows how extensive the virus has been travelling. The Delta variant could be anywhere, whether Orchard Road, Beach Road, Chinatown or Toa Payoh. The hawker centres, already reeling from the Bukit Merah cluster (because of some elderly Singaporeans’ reluctance to get themselves vaccinated), will be further shunned, along with wet markets. There is a perception, perhaps unjustified, that many staff and owners of hawker centre stalls patronise KTV joints. I received a WhatsApp message from a friend: “For next 2-3 weeks, my household not going to wet markets or hawker centres as owners/workers likely male and potential KTV customers. This ringfence can be huge unfortunately.”
The Ministry of health has also reported new coronavirus infections linked to 12 more markets and food centres across Singapore.
Who are going to support our hawkers? Remember, delivery workers can also transmit the variant. Doing online business does not shield you entirely. There should be a concerted effort to make hawker centres safe again, to clearly convey the message to all those Bukit Merah elderly that they are both a danger to others and a threat to the livelihoods of hawkers, some of whom are feeling the extra unfair odium brought about by a few cat and mouse KTV addicts.
The KTV cluster’s impact does not end there.
Will the movements of Asean and Chinese females in and out of Singapore come under closer scrutiny? Many are doing legitimate work and contributing to the country’s economy . Quite a number have married Singaporeans and become citizens. They are part of the social fabric here and should not become collateral damage and be questioned because of the KTV cluster. Hope not.
What about the consequences for those male Singaporeans identified as patrons of these illegal KTV joints? How will they explain their visits to their wives and children and for younger customers (one was said to be only 19!) to ome of their parents or siblings?
Social media has been flooded with memes and comments: “Give a National Day to the satay man in Toa Payoh Lorong 5. He was an infected KTV customer. All the erring uncles can say they went to eat satay there.”, “If you are tested positive for Covid-19 in Singapore, your chances of survival are 99.5 per cent. If your wife finds out you spend time with XXX hostesses in KTV, your chances of survival are 0.05 per cent.”
Some of these jokes are at the expense of the hostesses who are painted to be the villains of the piece. As I said earlier, willing buyer, willing seller. Have sympathy for the hostesses who obviously have mouths to feed or would not have turned to entertaining strangers/men to earn a living.
Once again, as has happened in the past, something hits us and forces us to deal more forcefully with a problem that is there all the time. For instance, it has been reported thatOne 4 D’Road Bar at Far East Shopping Centre allowed entry to freelance hostesses who were not employees of the bar, failed to minimise interaction between these hostesses and customers and screened music videos to customers on May 8. Some establishments continued to permit nightlife activities that were currently prohibited and flagrantly flouted safe management measures in the process, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment said.
What exactly are we going to do with Singapore’s nightlife, now and in the post Covid-19 pandemic period? Is there a grand plan or strategy? The nightlife to lok forward scene is practically dead. It is precisely because of this that these “illegal” joints are prepared to face the penalties to fill that vacuum – again and again.
It is not enough to say “we are dealing with a cat and mouse game” and expect the Singapore Nightlife Business Association with its 320 members to be both police and promoters.
The government can do better. Plug the weak links in enforcement. Solve the problem. Come up with a proper plan to develop a vibrant nightlife that is safe as well as exciting to look forward to beyond Covid-19.
Ravi Menon talks about “affective divide”
Monetary Authority of Singapore MD Ravi Menon just used a phrase last mentioned by writer Catherine Lim way back in 1994. Lim said then that there was an affective divide, an emotive disconnection, between the PAP and the people. It is still there.
Menon, who was speaking recently at the LKYPPS, cautioned that the country’s value proposition as an innovative business hub will be at “serious risk” if it restricts the flow of talent. But the anxieties that some Singaporeans feel about the influx of foreigners are real and need to be addressed too, he said.
“We need to resolve this affective divide... Singapore cannot afford to be seen either as lacking in opportunity for our own citizens or unwelcoming of foreigners.”
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
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