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Culture Lifestyle

Are Socially-Distanced Festivals Part of Our New Normal?

We live in strange, strange times. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has crippled most of the world, we’ve had to struggle to adapt to what’s colloquially called the “new normal”. This translates to masks being a permanent face accessory, only being able to go out in groups of five, figuring out how to work remotely from home, and so on.

However, as various governments start to gain a stronger hold on the spread of the virus, countries around the world are starting to regain some sense of normalcy. So, what does the future look like or, at least, what can we expect in the conceivable days that lie ahead? 

Perhaps an answer to this question lies in the form of socially-distanced festivals, which might be the key in helping to get the badly-beaten entertainment and music industry back on its feet!

Sure, there have been various livestream gigs but nothing can compare to the experience of witnessing live music acts in the flesh. At the start of August, the United Kingdom’s first socially-distanced concert was held in Newcastle, where around 2,500 people were in attendance. They were segregated into groups of five, with each group having their own elevated platform. Each platform even came with its own table, chairs, and even a fridge! Cars had to be parked two metres apart, with food and drink ordered in advance via an app. 

These socially-distanced concerts also come in many forms such as a drive-in concert, where people can enjoy the live acts whilst being socially distanced in their cars. The vehicles are spaced around six metres apart, allowing people to tune into the music via their car radios. The duration of the event is also kept to the maximum of one hour, with security teams on constant patrol to prevent anyone from getting out of their cars.

Such concerts have been popping up in parts of Europe and the United States, with DJs and performers finding creative ways to interact with the passengers in their respective vehicles. For example, at DJ D-Nice’s drive-in concert in Miami, he asked people to press their car horns in unison — replicating, in a way, the energy of the audience’s cheers!

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

And it seems as if event and concert organisers are not afraid to get creative — in Thailand, the Amazing Tuk Tuk Festival saw hundreds of tuk tuks at the Asiatique promenade, where passengers were treated to a slew of live acts. These tuk tuks stayed within their designated zones, which were clearly demarcated with tape. 

In the Philippines, a drive-in concert was held at the Laoag Sand Dunes, where each 4×4 vehicle had its own dedicated driver/tour guide. Each vehicle could only carry a maximum of four passengers, with sandboarding and an off-road tour thrown in as part of the experience. Measures such as wearing of face masks at all times and banning alcoholic beverage consumption were among some of the protocols implemented.

O.Torvald/Facebook

In Ukraine, the rock band O.Torvald even played their entire set on a building rooftop — where fans could watch the performance from the comfort of their own balconies! Booking of hotel rooms replaced the purchasing of tickets for this ‘vertical concert’, where they could sing and dance freely without being inhibited by a mask.

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

No matter the event, stringent measures are implemented, such as only having outdoor live stages, temperature checks upon entry, the presence of multiple hand sanitising booths and water points, as well as social distancing enforced in areas like bars and campsites. The upcoming Stendhal Festival in Northern Ireland even goes as far as to implement a minimum age of 21, as they acknowledge the trickiness of mandating social distancing practices for younger individuals.

This is a far cry from events that seemed to have forgone safety measures altogether — the recent music festival at Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park shocked the world when photos and videos of its party-goers went viral. The crowds were seen in close proximity with no masks in sight, reminiscent of concerts pre-COVID.

The effectiveness and sustainability of socially-distanced events have been thrown into question. As stated by Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, such events are simply not financially viable. If he had his way, he would use compulsory coronavirus testing as an incentive for partygoers looking to attend acts that are performing at full capacity. However, with the high costs involved, it’s unlikely that this will materialise anytime soon.

There have been mixed reactions from performance attendees as well, with some declaring that such socially-distanced concerts simply don’t offer the same atmosphere as packed live acts. However, these events have generally been met with much acclaim, with some attendees even joking that there are now VIP seats available for anyone and everyone. In fact, these socially-distanced concerts are so popular that they draw attendees from all walks of life! 

For now, no matter the perspective, it looks like we’ve entered a reinvented new era where crowded mosh pits are a thing of the past, with socially segregated concerts indefinitely here to stay. Or at least, for the foreseeable future!

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Lifestyle Travel Insights

Yes, Travel is Finally Possible! Here’s What You Need to Know About Singapore’s Travel Bubble

What a tumultuous year 2020 has been. With most of us having been confined to our homes during the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s little wonder that we’re all yearning for a getaway. 

Thankfully, as the spread of the virus starts to slow, various countries have gradually started to relax their border restrictions. And yes, with that, travel – in the form of travel bubbles – has indeed become possible once again! 

What exactly is a travel bubble?

Travel bubbles comprise exclusive partnerships between countries that have managed to control the spread of COVID-19 within their borders. This agreement permits travel between the respective countries without the need for mandated quarantine upon arrival. 

Examples of existing travel bubbles include those between selected cities in China and South Korea, as well as between India and Canada, among others. 

What countries are in Singapore’s travel bubble?

1. Singapore – New Zealand

kewl/Pixabay

Singapore has allowed travel to and from New Zealand, effective from 1st September 2020. This also applies to students studying at institutions in New Zealand that do not permit long-distance learning.

Visitors to Singapore from New Zealand will not have to undergo quarantine upon arrival, under the condition that they have not travelled out of New Zealand in the last consecutive 14 days. However, they would have to undergo a COVID-19 test at the airport and will only be allowed to resume their trip after a negative result.

2. Singapore – Brunei

AdamHillTravel/Pixabay

Similar to New Zealand, Singapore has allowed travel to and from Brunei from 1st September 2020 — with all the same rules applied.

For visitors from both New Zealand and Brunei, they would have to apply for an Air Travel Pass between seven and 30 days before their intended date of arrival. They would also have to bear all costs of medical treatment should they be diagnosed with COVID-19 whilst in Singapore.

Do note that Singaporeans looking to travel to New Zealand or Brunei should also check the countries’ respective entry requirements before planning their trip.

Countries permitted for essential travel

1. Singapore – Malaysia

Thilipen Rave Kumar/Pexels

Limited cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia has been approved and ongoing since 17th August 2020 under two schemes:

  • Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL), which allows short-term travel for essential business or official purposes for up to fourteen days
  • Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA), which allows Singapore and Malaysia residents holding long-term immigration passes for work or business to enter either country for work

This undoubtedly came as a relief for many Malaysian residents, with up to 100, 000 crossing the causeway daily pre-COVID-19! However, Malaysia has also imposed a daily quota of 400 and 2000 travellers under the RGL and PCA schemes respectively. Also, those that enter either country under the PCA option must stay in that respective country for ninety days before they’re allowed to return home. 

Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, on the other hand, do not require the PCA to return to Singapore. However, from 1st September 2020, they will still need to serve a seven-day stay-home notice – which has been reduced from the previous fourteen-day mandate.

Before making the trip, travellers will have to make an application through the Johor Immigration Department or the Safe Travel Portal, depending on which country they’re coming from. 

2. Singapore – China

steven_yu/Pixabay

From 8 June 2020, visitors from China are permitted to enter Singapore for essential travel via a ‘Fast Lane’. This is exclusive to visitors from six Chinese cities, such as Guangdong, Shanghai, Tianjin, Zhejiang, Chongqing, and Jiangsu. If all goes well, the fast lane arrangement will be extended to other parts of China.

Travellers from China have to be sponsored by a company of Singapore Government agencies, who will have to submit an application for a Safe Travel Pass on their behalf. When this is approved, travellers will have to undergo COVID-19 tests at the airport at their own costs. This also applies to travellers from Singapore to China.

3. Singapore – Japan

Bagus Pangestu/Pexels

In September, travel between Singapore and Japan will be permitted for short-term business travellers, expatriates, and other long-term residents. Expatriates and long-term residents will still have to undergo a fourteen-day mandated self-quarantine period upon arrival in either country. However, business travellers will not be subject to this quarantine, on the condition that they provide a full trip itinerary, refrain from using public transport, shun crowds, and only travel between their accommodation and place of work.

All travellers to Japan will also have to install the Cocoa app, a COVID-19 contact tracing app, as well as agree to store their phone’s GPS data and report their health conditions via the Line messaging app for two weeks after arrival.

What else is being done?

Addie, Pexels

Restrictions for other countries have also been relaxed. For example, visitors from Australia (except the Victoria state), mainland China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Macau will only have to serve a seven-day stay-home notice period, which is halved from the initial fourteen-day period.

In a bid to revive its travel sector, Singapore is also looking to replace the two-week self-quarantine period with a meticulous testing regime. 

As time goes by, we’ll hopefully see more countries having success in curbing the spread of the virus — allowing more travel restrictions to be eased. Till then, stay safe and stay tuned for more updates!

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Local News

Turbulent Waters Ahead for Corporate Singapore

This week the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced that Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink between 5 and 7 per cent in 2020, compared to the previous forecast range of -4 to -7 per cent. On Tuesday, 11 August, MTI said the economy contracted by 13.2 per cent year on year, sharper than the earlier forecast of 12.6 per cent and the worst on record.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, the Minister for Trade and Industry, expressed that, “This is our worst quarterly performance on record. The forecast for 2020 essentially means the growth generated over the past two to three years will be negated.”

Adding to the challenges companies are facing, Mr Chan warned that, “The painful truth is this — we are not returning to a pre-COVID world, recovery will be some time yet and recovery is not likely to be smooth.”

“In the coming months, retrenchments will rise, some companies will be forced to close, and it will be a difficult time for our people and businesses,” he told reporters via virtual correspondence.

Companies in Singapore are facing significant internal and external pressures. Singapore’s external demand outlook has weakened significantly with major economies grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. The risk of major resurgence of COVID-19 infections globally could further weaken external demand, adding further downward pressures.

With COVID-19 infections continuing to rise globally, the need for continued public health and safe distancing measures to tackle the spread of the virus remains and is expected to dampen consumer and business sentiments, and weaken labour market conditions, affecting personal consumption expenditure. We are seeing added risks from geopolitical tensions and anti-globalisation sentiments, with countries leaning more towards protectionist policies. This, in turn, would further disrupt global supply chains weighing in on global trade and the global economic recovery.

The reopening of international borders is taking place more gradually than earlier anticipated. This has significantly affected Singapore’s status as a travel hub, impacting local sectors that are reliant on tourism and air travel. Furthermore, sectors that are dependent on foreign workers who stay in dormitories have been affected by the longer time taken to clear these workers for work. Safe restart requirements have also added to the challenges faced by these firms.

We are in a midst of the worst financial, health, and socioeconomic storm that will severely test the resilience of companies in Singapore. Economists have highlighted that the global economic downturn would increase the stresses on the financial system resulting in a rise in corporate indebtedness, financial market dislocations, and capital outflows from emerging market economies.

The Singapore Government has been doing its best to infuse the economy with funds and provide relief measures such as wage subsidies and deferments in loan repayments to help businesses tide over this difficult period. However, with some measures scheduled to end in the coming months, companies and households would experience greater financial stresses and impact on cashflow reserves. Financial institutions in Singapore have set aside additional funds to cover potential bad loans as business conditions continue to remain weak, and the risk of further COVID-19 outbreaks remain ever present.

Like the rest of the world, the turbulent waters that Singapore companies are navigating began before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of the protracted US-China trade war which dampened business sentiments. The already weak business sentiments spread throughout all sectors of the global economy as governments struggled to contain the spread of the virus and began locking down their economies. More recently, a Thomson Reuters/INSEAD survey found that business sentiments of Asian companies have sunk to an 11-year low in the second quarter 2020 with deepening recession being a key risk concern for the next six months, and companies expecting staffing levels and business volumes to decline.

Former Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Chee Hong Tat, highlighted in June that Singapore could face a significant “uptick” of business cessation in the coming months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put a severe strain on the Singapore economy. He added that it is not possible to avoid firm closure and retrenchments. These were happening even before the outbreak. But with COVID-19, we must expect the situation to worsen and these numbers to go up.

Economists warn that more companies will go under, after wage support is cut for most sectors and job losses are expected to swell in Q2. Referencing data from Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), in the first three months of 2020, 239 companies went into liquidation, as compared with 287 for the whole of 2019. Liquidation or winding up of a company is a process where the company’s assets are seized and sold, with the proceeds used to pay off its debts and liabilities. To avoid winding up, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are diversifying their offerings to find new sources of revenue, and resorting to taking on odd jobs to make ends meet. Even large companies such as SIA have resorted to stringent cost cutting measures with more than a fifth of the 27,000 staff members under the SIA Group taking no-pay leave and the company reducing management fees.

Despite the best measures and support from the Government, there will be more business cessations, financial indebtedness, and insolvency resolution processes taking place here in Singapore. It is thus important to understand the various options available to companies. Corporate rescue laws have been established in many countries, including Singapore, and generally seek to preserve the value of an ailing enterprise. Known as judicial management in Singapore or Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States (US), the underlying principle behind restructuring or reorganisation proceedings is that a business may be worth a lot more if preserved, or even sold, in its current state rather than having individual parts sold off in a piecemeal manner.

The Legal Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) highlighted that due to the nature of current economies, reorganisation and restructuring of ailing firms have become more important than ever before as some companies are worth more in their current state run by existing managers and with existing shareholders, than if sold to third parties and managed by new teams. The IMF said that, “In the modern economy, the degree to which an enterprise’s value can be maximised through liquidation of its assets has been significantly reduced. In circumstances where the value of a company is increasingly based on technical know-how and goodwill rather than on its physical assets, preservation of the enterprise’s human resources and business relations may be critical for creditors wishing to maximize the value of their claims”.

In the current economic climate, governments have been focused on saving jobs and maintaining employment levels. Corporate rescue laws in the broader sense — besides maximising returns to creditors — have also been seen as a means of preserving employment, encouraging the creation and development of an entrepreneurial class of business people, and facilitating national strategic objectives such as maintaining choice for the consumer and keeping alive national champions that might otherwise fall victim to foreign competition.

When a company files for Chapter 11 in the US, it is assigned a committee that represents the interests of creditors and stockholders. Chapter 11 is typically based on a debtor in possession approach where the existing management team remains present but is transformed legally into a quasi-trustee in bankruptcy. In Singapore, judicial management would result in the board of directors losing their management powers and functions to an appointed judicial manager. The displacement of management in a corporate rescue plan is not unique to Singapore and mirrors similar practices in the UK and other similar jurisdictions.

Cessation of a business is never easy or pleasant. Sometimes the quick sale of company assets that can be more effectively used by the purchaser and, in the process, maintain employment is seen as the better approach rather than the tedious process of restructuring an existing corporate vehicle and getting the restructuring deal approved.

It is a difficult decision to make. Business owners and shareholders may need to ask these hard questions in the coming weeks and months as the pandemic and economic crisis will be here for the foreseeable future.