Singapore will permit customers starting August 10 Dine In

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Since April 2020, Singapore has seen heightened safe-distancing measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of these measures, food and beverage (F&B) outlets were not allowed to offer dining service. To further reduce the risk of community spread, F&B outlets would only provide delivery and take-away options. On 19 June 2020, the ‘Circuit Breaker’ measures were eased and Singaporeans were allowed to dine-in at F&B outlets again, as Singapore exited the Circuit Breaker. However, then, there are rules and conditions to ensure the safety and well-being of all patrons. All dine-in F&B establishments that provide alcoholic beverages must cease the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages from 2230 hours to 0630 hours the next day. There are also not more than 5 diners allowed to be seated together at the same table. These are to avoid that large group of diners will gather and compromise safe management measures. Alcoholic beverages may only be sold or provided to diners for consumption within the same dining period in which the alcoholic beverages are sold or provided. From 27 March 2020, there are further measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. All operators of F&B establishments and social clubs are to not provide any games or entertainment that involves personal contact or close interactions (eg darts, billiards, karaoke) and customers must also not play or use such facilities in the establishment or club. These measures are to prevent the risk of transmission of COVID-19 through common touchpoints for example holding of common equipment in the games or activities. The establishments must also discontinue self-service buffet and common amenity. This is to reduce the risks of multiple people touching the same set of ladles or tongs in communal buffet. Today, F&B outlets are inspected on different occasions to ensure that all the rules and conditions are being followed. Any outbreaks will result in severe punishment. By observing good personal and public hygiene practices and being socially responsible, we can achieve a COVID-19 safe environment.

Restrictions on Dining-In Services

The stringent restrictions on dining-in services have been a major focal point for Singapore’s debate on whether to allow dine-in services. Amongst the various restrictions imposed on dining-in services, capacity limits and social distancing measures seemed to be the most pertinent arguments. Capacity limits would restrict the number of diners in a day and have the most direct impact on the food and beverage (F&B) industry. For larger dining establishments, the required spacing of at least 1m between the tables would eat up a significant portion of the already limited floor areas, meaning a reduction in diners would be forced to ensure enough space for everyone. This has resulted in a passionate pushback from the industry players, notably the Association, about the necessity of such a measure and how it threatens the commercial viability of the industry. The media coverage was largely consistent with the opinions on the ground, with the local news outlets showcasing heated public discussions on why capacity limits and social distancing measures might not be the right fit for Singapore. Such narratives have put the Health Minister, who has actively expressed the government’s intention to ease dining restrictions as soon as conditions allow, under the spotlight. It has also intensified the political pressure from the opposition parties and civil societies to reveal the ‘scientific evidence’ and ‘rationale’ behind the stringent restrictions as compared to other activities that are currently allowed in Singapore. These organized public opinions, according to Ms Lim, are part and parcel of lobbying activities to convince the policy-makers to relax the measures. Due to the potentially high social and political stakes of the decision, it is widely believed that there have been unprecedented levels of engagements between businesses, advocacy groups and the government. Working papers, press releases, joint statements and open letters were exchanged amongst the various interest groups, hoping to sow the seed of doubt in the mind of the policy-makers about the necessity of the restrictions. On the contrary, it is widely believed that such ‘government’s dialogue initiatives’ serve as a watchdog function and a significant check and balance on the policymaking process. Prof Tan stressed that the policy-makers would have no choice but to engage in sincere and meaningful dialogues with the citizens when controversial topics are being put under the spotlight, such as the extraordinary limitations on individual liberties and freedom because of an infectious disease. He opined that it is during these challenging times that citizen engagement and the notion of democratic deliberation are expected to be upheld. The government, given the highly charged situation, is expected to be put in an unenviable position of having to balance between expert advice, public opinions and diplomatic dialogues with the civil societies and the oppositions. All eyes are on the progress of potential relaxations on dining-in restrictions, with the businesses and political groups bracing themselves for any outcome.

Importance of Safe Management Measures

By following and maintaining the necessary safe management measures, it can give the authorities the confidence to further re-open more activities and even increase the capacity limits for businesses.

The safe management measures work together with the vaccination programme in providing a safer environment at work and in public places. For example, the rate of vaccination can be increased by having vaccination centres located conveniently. To date, we have vaccination centres in the heartlands and some located within or near business districts. This is especially important for businesses that require a large number of employees to return to work on site if safe distancing measures cannot be followed.

These measures are important as they allow dine-in services, but they only become effective if everyone plays their part. This includes being socially responsible and adopting the necessary good personal hygiene practices to reduce the risk of transmission.

More importantly, customers and employees should wear a mask, except when eating and drinking. Also, food and drinks should not be allowed to be sold or consumed in areas within the business premise. This measure will help ensure that customers are following social distancing and it reduces the risk of transmission through the promotion of these good personal hygiene practices.

Businesses are required to have a premise risk assessment and develop a plan to ensure safe management measures. This includes implementing control measures to reduce the risk of transmission, such as maintaining good ventilation and ensuring that customers, employees, and visitors use SafeEntry to check in and out. Also, there must be clear physical zones. For example, where applicable and where operationally feasible, the venue is required to implement zoning to prevent mixing between different groups of customers. Movement in the area where food and drinks are served should be separated from the entry, the waiting area, and the bar.

Under this phase, dine-in is now allowed. However, the authorities require that businesses and customers must adhere to the safety management measures. They are focused on ensuring the safety of customers and employees while managing the risk of Covid-19.

Since June, when Singapore saw a significant increase in Covid-19 cases in the community, strict safe management measures have been implemented to minimise the risk of transmission while allowing essential services to continue. As Singapore has moved into phase 3 of re-opening, some of the measures and restrictions have been eased.

Singapore’s Announcement on August 10 Dine-In

After more than two months of only takeaway or delivery services, Singapore announced that dine-in services would be allowed to resume from 19 June 2020 and beyond. However, not all eateries would be ready to open on that day as they would have to submit their manpower details for rostered routine testing of COVID-19. Only F&B establishments that received either the Resilience or Safe Management Assistance will be included in the permitted services. While Resilience is a temporary bridging financial support for businesses, the Safe Management Assistance is given to establishments that have put in place effective safe management measures. All food and beverage (F&B) outlets such as hawker centres, coffeeshops, and canteens can also resume offering dining services. The same goes for retail stores and the four attractions that have been given approval earlier – the two casinos, the Universal Studios Singapore, and the Singapore Zoo. However, karaoke outlets, bars, nightclubs, discotheques, and saunas will remain closed as they are regarded as higher risk. “For those approved to resume services, the task is to adjust to new norms on hygiene and safe distancing. They will be inspected and taken to task if they do not do so,” said Mr Tan See Leng, the newly appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Establishments will be checked on safe management practices and the responsible officer of the F&B and dining services will be held accountable in case of any non-compliances. Some of the key principles for the safe management measures in F&B include setting up multiple SafeEntry systems if there are multiple entrances so as to facilitate contact tracing, no mixing between different groups of diners, and to maintain a distance of at least 1 metre between tables. Alcoholic drinks will not be allowed to be served after 2230 hours daily. The public is advised to report any breach of rules to the authorities. Bus and rail services will also be adjusted to meet the varying travel needs during the post-circuit breaker phase. However, Safe Distancing Ambassadors will continue to be deployed at hot spot locations such as popular malls and markets. All enforcement officers, including the Safe Distancing Ambassadors, will have the powers to request for personal particulars for contact tracing purposes.

Date of Implementation

Following the announcement on 14 June 2021 that dine-in would begin on 21 June 2021, businesses providing food and beverages and F&B retail establishments had six months to apply for the mandatory safe management measures (SMM) audit under the SG Clean Campaign before they would be required to undergo regular SMM audits when dine-in commenced. This transition period provided sufficient time for businesses to implement the necessary SMM and to adapt to the new environment with their implementation. On 30 June 2021, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced that the move to Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) would begin in two steps. First, further relaxation of measures would commence on 12 July 2021, with no intermingling of groups, particularly in malls or large stores that had larger congregations of people and higher throughput of shoppers. On 12 July 2021, Singapore began transitioning to Phase 3 (Heightened Alert). However, interim relaxations would be given until the full set of Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) measures commenced on 19 July 2021. The new measures that would take effect from 12 July 2021 included increasing the group size, with a maximum of five unique visitors allowed per household per day and up to five persons in social gatherings. Work-from-home requirements would be eased and employees were allowed to return to the workplace gradually. On 19 July 2021, Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) measures commenced and dining in groups of five was allowed. This move towards greater reopening was in view of the continued progress of the national vaccination programme. As of 19 July 2021, about 4.77 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered and 2.63 million individuals had completed the full vaccination regimen. With the progress of vaccination and the prevention of large clusters, the Government finally had the confidence to ease the stringent measures, such as allowing dining-in to resume. Starting from 19 July 2021, dining-in at F&B establishments was allowed. This comprised groups of up to five people, as long as the diners were fully vaccinated. Patrons had to check in to the F&B premises using SafeEntry and there was also a new requirement for individuals to self-scan the SafeEntry QR code with their TraceTogether Apps or TraceTogether Tokens. However, individuals without TraceTogether App or TraceTogether Token would still be allowed to check in with their NRIC/FIN. Visibly, the implementation for the easing of measures, including the allowance for dine-in, definitely requires comprehensive logistic and operational arrangements. This is necessary to ensure that the measures could be properly enforced and public compliance could be facilitated. The date of implementation for move to Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) and the subsequent easing of measures was set on 19 July 2021, a significant day for Singapore as the reopening marked a forward step towards the new normal of living with COVID-19.

Conditions and Guidelines for Dine-In Services

These guidelines include prominent procedures and recommendations set by the government and relevant authorities. For instance, the National Environment Agency has issued general directions and advisory according to the Environmental Public Health Act and Regulations. Operators will need to clean and sanitise all common facilities and equipment with disinfectants regularly. This includes tables, chairs, trays and traysigns, service counters and condiment containers. Cleaning and disinfecting must be done at least every 2 to 3 hours. Workers and staff involved in serving customers should also wash their hands frequently using hand sanitisers or soap and water. They are also reminded to wear masks all the time. Social distancing measures have to be observed and maintained as well. Everyone must ensure that a safe distance of at least 1 metre apart is being kept in between customers and diners. Groups of customers should also preferably not exceed 5 persons. Children that are aged 12 and below and vulnerable elderly, however, should be guided to avoid dining at public dining. Such precautions are important to ensure that known and potential vectors of the COVID-19 are being minimised in public dining areas. All F&B establishments and outlets, including hawker centres and food courts, are to ensure that these measures and requirements are being fully implemented. A failure to comply with the obligations may result in the revocation or suspension of the permit granted by the relevant authority. Any person who contravenes any of these measures shall also be guilty of an offence and may be fined with a sum of up to $10,000, or imprisoned for a term of up to 6 months, or with or to both. This paragraph explains the fines under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act enacted in Singapore and raises the consequence and impacts for non-compliance. Finally, the guidelines dictate that customers are required to check in and out of the premises by using their mobile phone to scan the SafeEntry QR code. This is done to facilitate contact tracing and show that the customer has been to the place after being seated in the restaurant. This not only ensures secure logging of each and every customer but it will also facilitate the quick contact tracing of potential COVID-19 cases. SafeEntry, though, does not capture personal data of individuals; it only captures the date and time that each person checks in and checks out of a place.

Capacity Limits and Social Distancing Measures

Apart from the capacity limits, safe distancing between groups of diners of at least one metre apart must be maintained. If there are fixed seats, alternate seats must not be used to ensure interpersonal distancing. This applies to all table and seating configurations, such as booth seats, counter seats, and along wall seats. Where such distancing measures cannot be put in place due to the nature of the activity (e.g. live music performances), group size is limited to five persons or fewer. All the dining tables have also been distanced to ensure the one metre requirement and to avoid situations where customers directly face each other. For more clarity, especially in the multi-stall retail setups, the URA and HDB have implemented a temporary scheme to enable relevant authorities to process and approve applications for other types of food licenses for such dining services. Such flexibility is extended to existing F&B tenants such that license amendments or duly applications for change of trade can be expeditiously approved. Additionally, under the COVID-19 Regulations, food retail establishments are required to conduct once-weekly mandatory rostered routine testing for the duration of this period where dine-in is allowed. All staff of food retail establishments, including holders of employment passes and S-Passes, are required to undergo such tests. Notably, unless with reasonable excuse, no person shall be served or consume any food or drink on the premises of a food retail establishment. While diners are allowed to remove their masks for the meal, they must put them back immediately after the meal.

Implications and Benefits of Allowing Dine-In Services

Allowing dining services in Singapore has several implications and benefits. It helps to boost the economy and supports businesses, as well as enhances social interactions and mental well-being. However, it is crucial to ensure safe and responsible dining experiences for everyone involved. First and foremost, restaurants and eateries in Singapore will benefit from the allowance of safe and responsible dining. According to statistics, about 10 percent or 833 million outings have moved from home to food and beverage (F&B) outlets when dining in was allowed from mid-July. All food shops actually saw a 10 to 20 percent increase in sales and more than half of the F&B stalls saw an increase in patronage and some could even break even. This sales boost would greatly help most of the F&B outlets that are renting their stalls from the Government as it has been reported that they have seen a significant decrease in revenue during the period when dining-in was not allowed. In addition, lifting the ban on dining-in can help to revive several food and beverage businesses that have been severely affected by the pandemic. Naturally, businesses have to go through a series of audits and adjustments enforced by the National Environment Agency (NEA) before they are allowed to offer the dine-in services. For instance, they would need to ensure that customers can have a safe distance of at least 1 meter apart by regulating the number of people allowed within the restaurant and the number of tables that can seat customers. In addition, the process of registration by customers who dine-in for contact tracing purposes has to be revamped from the previous method which requires them to manually fill up their particulars in the Contact Tracing Logbook provided by the food and beverage businesses to through digital check-ins by scanning the Safe Entry QR code provided on each table. The Safe Entry QR code system has been effective in aiding the contact tracing operations by the Ministry of Health as it allows the authorities to track the movement of the patients before they were diagnosed. This has enabled the investigators to identify and contain the spread of the virus. By introducing the digital check-ins to the dining-in services, it is believed that this will further improve the effectiveness of the contact tracing regime as the gathered data would be more accurate and comprehensive, hence better support for the contact tracing investigations.

Boosting the Economy and Supporting Businesses

Some food and beverage businesses have previously found it difficult to sustain themselves during the pandemic with people unable to dine-in. Reports have shown that retail sales of food and beverage services decreased by 25.5% in May 2020 and food & beverage services have been one of the most hard-hit sectors. However, allowing dine-in services can help to improve and stimulate the economy. When there is dine-in, people may be more willing to eat out and spend money. Yong Tai, a senior lecturer in the School of Business at the Singapore under the university, said if people dine in and the spending has increased, then it would help improve the revenue of the restaurants. Hence, the move may help rejuvenate the food and beverage businesses and also increase the company’s revenue in the long run. This is important for Singapore, as we would like to position our economy to be a more resilient and a more flexible type of economy. In doing this, the government have also been encouraging companies in Singapore to be able to transform and work towards adopting new technologies, removing certain rules and regulations that are impeding the company’s progress and also to help the companies go into new markets. By developing and studying the data these businesses have, companies may also take advantage of the move towards a digital economy. This would benefit both customers and businesses as customers can check for the most up-to-date recommendations or to know what are the latest promotions; companies on the other hand, can track the preferences and what exactly the trends are for the customers that are coming in and this would give them valuable data to allow them to develop their services and products.

Enhancing Social Interactions and Mental Well-being

Furthermore, allowing dine-in services can enhance social interactions and mental well-being. Social connections are an important aspect of an individual’s mental health. The ability to share a meal together and communicate face-to-face with friends and family is beneficial for our mental well-being. Isolation and loneliness have been associated with increased risk of mental health issues. During a pandemic, people may feel more disconnected from the community and their loved ones. Therefore, allowing people to dine-in together can help to nurture a sense of community and belonging. It can also facilitate social support and provide opportunities for a ‘normal’ social interaction. In addition, social interactions can also provide motivation and build other healthy habits. For example, it could motivate individuals to maintain a balanced diet as they are encouraged to enjoy meals with friends and family. Besides, public spaces where social interactions occur can improve the mental wellness of many. Creating a vibrant and lively dining environment, where laughter and conversations can be heard, is important for everyone’s mental well-being. Restaurants that are busy and engaging often ‘add value’ to the local area and can also help to combat social problems such as community severance and crime. However, some might argue that the usage of mobile electronic devices during meal times reduces the quality and amount of social interactions. Evidently, this is also detrimental to mental wellness as face-to-face interactions are replaced by virtual interactions. Nonetheless, safeguarding public interest and the benefits of allowing social interactions must be balanced with the need to execute proper measures for safety and well-being. This is in line with the recent announcement made by the Singapore Government on 24th March 2021 about safe management measures to be followed for diners. Creative and stringent measures, such as a time limit of 90 minutes for dining and a maximum group size of 8 persons, will be implemented to ensure that there will not be large gatherings of individuals at any one time. Also, the advancement of technology will be used to facilitate contact tracing. Such measures, which would necessitate a collective effort from everyone, are important for ensuring both the physical and mental wellness of the public. By following the guidelines and being socially responsible, every individual will get to enjoy the social and mental benefits of dine-in services.

Ensuring Safe and Responsible Dining Experiences

To ensure safe and responsible dining experiences, there are several measures and guidelines that have been put in place. Firstly, all food and beverage outlets are required to conduct temperature screening and check in order to restrict entry to individuals who are unwell. This also includes the staff who are working at the outlets. Furthermore, contact tracing is mandatory. Individuals are required to either scan the Safe Entry QR code using the TraceTogether app or produce their NRIC or any identification card for the purpose of checking in. This would be important towards facilitating contact tracing should a COVID-19 infection occur. In addition, all service staff are required to wear masks at all times and are to observe good personal hygiene. For dine-in customers, they must wear a mask, except when eating or drinking. Each table or group of diners is limited to five persons and there must be a distance of at least one metre between each table or group of diners. The Ministry of Health also spelt out the requirement for cleaning and disinfecting at all food and beverage outlets. In this regard, cleaning and disinfecting must be done regularly, at least every two hours, especially high touch areas. Also, all tabletops must be cleaned and sanitised after each use. All these measures and guidelines work together as a system to ensure that dining out can be done safely for everyone involved. This is crucial in view of the fact that Singapore has begun to “re-open” its economy and community in a safe and controlled manner, and it is important that everyone is able to continue to patronise food and beverage outlets with confidence that their health and safety will be protected. By observing these measures and guidelines, the risk of COVID-19 transmission can be further minimised and this would provide a conducive and safe environment for dining for everyone involved. I believe that it is crucial for all of us, be it the operators, staff or diners, to play our part and contribute collectively to ensure that these measures and guidelines can be properly complied with, so that we can continue to enjoy our meals in a safe and comfortable manner. These measures and social responsibility are indeed pivotal in order to ensure that we can transit into the “new normal” in a safe and sustainable way.