Singapore has gone on a roller coaster ride in its fight against COVID-19. One of the first few countries to report high numbers of infections, Singapore was initially hailed as the gold standard in fighting this disease, with excellent and swift authority response. However, we then experienced subsequent waves of infections from different clusters. There are definitely lessons to be learnt from the Singapore Story, but as with every other crisis to reach our shores, Singapore remains resilient and united as we face the fight against COVID-19.
Termed a ‘circuit breaker’, Singapore essentially went into lockdown mode from 7th April 2020 with an initial end date of 4th May. It was then announced that this would be extended till 1st June. Only essential services were allowed to operate, with schools closing and everyone working from home. It was such an unusual feeling for all! What a strange sight to see the usually bustling shopping district of Orchard Road left forlorn and empty, while Singapore's famed Changi Airport ceased operations in two terminals. Singapore residents were required to stay at home except for essential trips such as buying food and groceries.
For the many overseas Singaporeans and permanent residents like myself, returning home at this point in time was a heartwarming experience that most of us will not forget. Returning residents were required to serve a 14 day stay home notice, and the government made wonderful provisions for us to serve our stay home notice in lovely hotels around the island. At first, this arrangement was for returnees from high risk regions such as the United Kingdom and the United States. It was later extended to all returnees.
I was allocated to a hotel located on the resort island just off Singapore’s main island. Three hot meals were provided daily, laundry services were complimentary, and we were all assigned e-buddies to check on our health and needs daily. It was certainly a very comfortable arrangement that allowed us peace of mind as well, without having to worry about potentially infecting our loved homes at home. While it was a bit lonely at times to be cooped up in a room by ourselves, we all understood the need to be socially responsible. Also, having a two week staycation in a luxury hotel is possibly a once in a lifetime experience for many of us!
An issue that has become central to the fight against COVID-19 would be the living conditions of migrant workers in Singapore. Initially lauded for quick and decisive containment efforts to reduce infection rates in the general population, this pandemic has revealed structural loopholes in Singapore’s response, which has neglected a sizeable group of more than 300,000 migrant workers. Often housed in cramped and sometimes unsanitary conditions, it led to a surge in infections amongst these workers. This has become a time of national reckoning, prompting widespread awareness about the living conditions of migrants in our country. The silver lining of this situation is a renewed national commitment to improving the living standards for vulnerable groups living and working in our country.
Like in many other countries, the fight against COVID-19 has brought upon us very unusual and exceptional times. People have been subjected to a great loss of personal mobility rights, many inconveniences, separation from family, and heartache. Yet this crisis has also brought out the resilience of the human spirit, with many demonstrating selflessnesses in looking out for their neighbours, for the vulnerable, and for the less fortunate. People have also been very creative and innovative about how to spend their time at home during this circuit breaker period, and enthusiastic about supporting local businesses by taking out delicious meals to enjoy in the comfort of home. From creating dance and work out videos, staying in touch with friends through house party video calls, or trying out new recipes, the circuit breaker has been a time for many to recharge and reconnect with our loved ones. With 3 weeks more to go before the end of the circuit breaker, it is on us to make the Singapore Story one of hope, unity, and resilience as we walk through this crisis together safer and stronger as a nation.
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