Singapore: Eateries welcome easing of COVID-19 restrictions, including larger groups of diners

Eateries are already making preparations for larger groups of diners, even though bookings have yet to go up by much.

This comes as the permitted dining-in group size for those who are vaccinated is being raised from two to five, as part of relaxed COVID-19 curbs that kicked in on Nov. 22. The diners in the group need not be from the same household.

Restaurant and cafe owners told The Straits Times on Nov. 20 that they welcomed the easing of the dining-in rule.

“It is a lifeline to all food and beverage [F&B] businesses,” said Ms. Khoh Wan Chin, a partner at dessert shops Creamier and Sunday Folks.

She added that her eateries have started preparing for larger groups of diners such as changing the layout of the tables and seating configuration.

Mr. Jerry Singh, chief executive of restaurant chain The Singapura Club, said his two eateries have made similar arrangements.

He has not seen a surge in bookings, which he said was because the public is still “numb” from the multiple changes to dining-in restrictions since the start of this year. But he expects a gradual increase when “the public becomes less numb and more lively.”

Mr. Pang Kok Keong, who owns Pang’s Hakka Noodles, has also not experienced a major rise in bookings.

“We are just looking forward to business picking up,” said the chef, who is also a partner at F&B company The Foreign Project, which owns several eateries including Birds Of A Feather in Amoy Street.

No Signboard Holdings chairman and chief executive Sam Lim said it will take time for customers to decide and plan to have a meal at its seafood restaurants.

“We have prepared the restaurants. In two or three days’ time, we foresee the reservations coming in,” he said.

Besides the increase in dining-in group size, up to five vaccinated people will be allowed in social gatherings. Households will also be able to receive up to five distinct visitors a day.

Most Singaporeans ST spoke to welcomed the easing of restrictions, with some intending to meet family members and friends.

Policy manager Tham Shen Hong said he has made plans to have dinner with some friends and will visit others on the coming weekends.

“The increase is very welcome, but it feels like they could have implemented it earlier because they have already relaxed restrictions for events like weddings, concerts and the Bloomberg New Economy Forum,” said the 30-year-old, who works in the software industry.

A teacher, who wanted to be known only as Ms. Mahes, said she is looking forward to meeting her niece and two nephews, between 4 and 11, when they visit over the weekend.

But the 32-year-old is concerned about whether new restrictions will be imposed in the future. “It just feels like deja vu. We have been swinging from two to five and back to two for a while now,” she said.

Mr. Peter Lim, 59, said the loosening of restrictions is timely, as about 98.7% of COVID-19 cases here are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

“It is difficult to continue with the two-person rule for a longer time as resentment and resistance will creep in, as in most other countries,” said the vice president for aerospace at Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing.

Some Singaporeans said they will not rush to socialize, even as they appreciate the flexibility of dining out or gathering in a group whenever they wish to.

One of them, who wanted to be known only as Mr. Tan, said he will meet his family or friends if there is an occasion to get together.

“But I will not do so just because the gates are open,” said the 68-year-old retiree, who was in the airline industry.

Some measures, however, will be tightened for people who choose not to be vaccinated.

From Dec. 1, those above 12 seeking to enter National Library Board libraries or take part in certain activities in community clubs must be fully vaccinated. A concession will be extended to those who are medically ineligible for vaccination.

Those who remain unvaccinated by choice will no longer be allowed to show a negative COVID-19 test to bypass vaccination-differentiated measures from Jan. 1 next year, meaning they will not be allowed into buildings such as malls.

Some Singaporeans who spoke to ST said those who choose not to be vaccinated should bear the consequences of their actions.