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KFC SG’s 2021 COVID-19 protocol breach charges make headlines amidst rising cases: A case of bad timing?

KFC SG’s 2021 COVID-19 protocol breach charges make headlines amidst rising cases: A case of bad timing?

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KFC Singapore received two charges in court yesterday for breaching COVID-19 regulations at its outlet located at Far East Plaza in July last year. 

According to multiple sources, such as Channel NewsAsia and The Straits Times, the KFC outlet had let in four customers without checking if they were displaying any symptoms of COVID-19. KFC management had also reportedly failed to ensure that customers only dine in groups of two, as were the COVID-19 regulations implemented on F&B establishments at the time.

A KFC representative, operations director Jonathan Liew Tiong Soo, had received the charges on behalf of the company, and asked for a week's adjournment to seek legal advice, CNA reported. The case has now been adjourned to 21 January. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to KFC Singapore for comment.

In addition to prominent brands such as KFC, smaller F&B establishments were also found guilty of breaching COVID-19 regulations. For instance, Junction 8's Food Junction had failed to ensure safe distancing of at least one metre between groups of customers on multiple occasions, according to a statement by the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment. It was later ordered to close from 4 to 13 December 2021 by the ministry. Joo Chiat Fish Soup was also caught allowing intermingling between different groups of customers, and was later ordered to cease operations from 5 to 12 December 2021 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Despite the incident occurring a year ago, KFC still made headlines in Singapore amidst the rising number of Omicron cases in the community. Director of medical services Kenneth Mak said during a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference on 5 January that a worst-case scenario may see Singapore recording as many as 15,000 cases a day at the peak of the Omicron virus. According to case numbers released by the Ministry of Health, the number of Omicron cases nearly doubled from 438 on Tuesday to 797 on Wednesday. 

Nonetheless, KFC is better off facing the charges now than in July last year, when Singapore was facing a wave of COVID-19 infections, Edwin Yeo, general manager of SPRG, said. He added that while KFC should stillapologise and take appropriate action to improve its protocols, the fast-food chain would currently not receive as much backlash as one would expect due to "COVID-19 fatigue".

"It doesn't make it right, but we've had nearly two years of fighting this virus and it's understandable why we're all a bit tired today," he added.

At the same time, Yeo said Singaporeans' attitudes towards the pandemic seems to be in line with what the government has been preaching, an acceptance of COVID-19 being endemic. "So such breaches are not likely to evoke as strong emotions as they used to," he said.

Even if people are frustrated with KFC for failing to take it seriously, Yeo explained that there is a subconscious acceptance that COVID-19 is here to stay. "So while we might outwardly rage against a big brand, but if one likes their food, they are unlikely to boycott the brand over this incident," he said.

At the same time, while the public generally expects all companies to follow protocols, Tarun Deo, founder of Progressive Communications and former MD, Singapore and Southeast Asia of GOLIN, said occasional lapses do occur, and no one can be compliant at all times, especially since the pandemic is now well is now two years running.

The problem lies when repeated lapses occur, which will erode brand trust and goodwill. 

According to him, while it is unfortunate that KFC's court case comes amidst rising cases in the country, the F&B chain could work on mitigating the impact of the incident by working with the authorities on acknowledging the lapses and talking about the protocols and measures it has adopted since. This allows KFC to inform the public that it is making its amendments.

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