F&B and beauty sectors in Singapore adjust to mandatory Covid-19 testing

SINGAPORE – For one food and beverage (F&B) business, mandatory Covid-19 tests for employees, in place since July 15, have become a part of its standard operating procedure, even as dining in is no longer allowed under tightened measures that kicked in on Thursday (July 22).

As the Jigger & Pony Group pivots back to takeaway and delivery across its five outlets, co-founder Indra Kantono said: “Not doing so is not an option, as we need every dollar of revenue we can get just to survive another month of no-dine-in restrictions.”

The group, whose outlets include award-winning cocktail bar Jigger & Pony at Amara Singapore and Italian-inspired restaurant Caffe Fernet at Customs House, will be offering everything from bottled cocktails to Italian food till the restrictions are lifted after Aug 18.

The fast and easy test (FET), to be done every 14 days, is mandatory for those who work in settings with unmasked customers.

Under phase two (heightened alert), affected businesses include F&B establishments offering deliveries and takeaways, and beauty industry businesses providing personal care services.

About 150 of Jigger & Pony’s employees, whether they are part of the service team or not, will be tested before their shifts to keep both staff and customers safe.

To prepare them, the group came up with an instructional step-by-step video so everyone would be clear about the procedure for self-testing with antigen rapid test (ART) kits.

Tests are done via live video calls or on-site with each outlet’s FET supervisors, who ensure that everyone has a negative result before they start their shift.

The FET kits are sponsored by the Government for the first three months.

But Mr Kantono said extra manpower and hours have to be dedicated to the testing. There are also concerns about the additional cost of purchasing kits regularly for the tests after the first three months.

“For our company, this would roughly be around $3,600 to $4,200 per month,” he said.

Other businesses, like medical aesthetics company Only Group, have a much smaller pool to monitor for the tests.

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The group has 30 client-facing staff members in eight medical aesthetic clinics islandwide, and testing is done on-site before the start of shifts, with managers supervising the tests to ensure accuracy.

All its outlets are still open as they provide procedures for face, skin, body and hair, rather than conventional facial treatments.

Mr Joash Conceicao, senior bartender from Jigger & Pony Group, swabbing himself last week as part of the process of self-testing using a Covid-19 antigen rapid test kit. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Ms Cheah Lai Ee from Jigger & Pony Group supervising Mr Conceicao from another location as he uses the self-testing kit. The group’s staff do their tests during live video calls or on-site with supervisors to ensure everyone has a negative result. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

A Covid-19 antigen rapid test kit. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

“The FET regimen will form a part of our daily operations, and we do not foresee any difficulties as the safety of our team and our customers takes priority,” said chief executive Adren How.

However, about 30 per cent of appointments with the group’s outlets have been postponed since the announcement of the return to phase two (heightened alert).

While Mr How accepts the necessity of the Government’s start-and-stop approach, he feels that vaccinated and unvaccinated customers should be differentiated.

“No Covid-19 cluster was ever formed in (the beauty) industry, therefore this heightened alert, where the vaccinated and unvaccinated are restricted equally, does not sit well with many,” he said.

“As more of the population moves towards being vaccinated, we do not understand why such drastic measures must be taken, instead of having different measures for the vaccinated and unvaccinated.”

He added: “We more than welcome government support measures since phase two (heightened alert) does have an impact (on our business) to a certain extent.”

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Mr Kantono is also hoping for “significantly more government support to cover business costs and cash flow crunches” for F&B businesses pivoting to delivery and takeaway.

He said the group’s revenue fell 90 per cent during the last phase two (heightened alert) period from mid-May to the middle of June.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the tightened measures were necessary because of the extent of the Jurong Fishery Port cluster.

“This is most worrying, and we are at risk of an uncontrollable rise in cases, which could potentially result in many severe illnesses or even deaths,” he warned.

“So we need to pre-emptively tighten up social activities.”

Fast and easy testing

– The mandatory fast and easy test (FET) regime, in place since July 15, is compulsory for those who work in settings with unmasked customers, such as food and beverage (F&B) staff.

– It requires employees to be tested, via self-administered tests such as antigen rapid tests (ART), once every 14 days.

– Before the July 15 start, the businesses nominated up to two employees per outlet to attend four-hour virtual training sessions conducted by Ministry of Health-appointed vendor HMI Institute. They are trained to supervise testing that is either conducted on-site before business hours or virtually via a Zoom call.

– Each test takes 10 to 15 minutes.

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– For tests conducted on site: After self swab has been completed, the swab stick, reaction tube and the test device should be placed into a Ziploc bag with the employee’s ID and sealed. The test device should be laid flat and the results can be read in 15 to 20 minutes.

– Employees that obtain a negative test result may proceed to work. Those who obtain a positive result will have to retake the test. If the second test is negative, they are cleared to work. But a second positive result means they must consult a doctor at a Swab and Send Home Public Health Preparedness Clinic or be taken to a Swab Isolation Facility immediately.

– The Ziploc bag must be disposed of, and the swab station wiped down.

– Supervisors must upload the ART results of the employees into the national Swab Registration System within the same day.

– The cost of the kits and training for employees will be borne by the Government for the first three months.

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