Singapore is eight months into its fight against Covid-19.
And there is some cause for cheer in how we are waging the war against the virus here.
The number of new cases in the community has remained stable, at an average of fewer than one a day in the past two weeks. There have been no patients in intensive care since early last month.
But it is precisely these encouraging signs that are prompting some to let their guard down – and it will take only one crack, one cluster forming, to ruin everything we in Singapore have sacrificed so much for.
The fact is, despite everything we have endured – including unprecedented restrictions, being separated from loved ones for extended periods of time, deaths and funerals by Zoom panel – the end is still far away, with mask wearing continuing to be the norm, and the economy taking a severe hit.
Mass local distribution of a vaccine in Singapore – which could mark the beginning of a return to normalcy – is still far out of reach, possibly not until the end of next year.
Of course, a vaccine is not the endgame. Post-vaccine, we may well have to learn to live with the virus for the long term as it is likely to continue to circulate globally, and may even be impossible to eradicate – but at least it will be with fewer daily disruptions and less stress.
For now, the country needs to focus on getting to phase three – a “new normal”.
Official details on what exactly this phase would entail have been scarce, but it will involve the resumption of social, cultural, religious and business gatherings. Group size restrictions may also be loosened.
Already, some of these changes are being introduced: Small group activities for seniors recently resumed, and Singapore is gradually reopening its borders to travellers.
More opening up may be in store. On Wednesday, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force Lawrence Wong said that the next few weeks may see Singapore moving along the road map to phase three, but it is contingent on everyone doing his part.
It is important at this stage that people in Singapore persist and not let our guard down on mask wearing, hygiene and social distancing measures.
A painful circuit breaker earlier this year brought daily cases down significantly. We have already made it through several rounds of measures.
But the cracks and exhaustion are starting to show. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited a Straits Times survey that showed almost half of the respondents were weary of pandemic safety measures.
Only 43 per cent said they would always obey safe distancing measures even if the authorities were not around, while another 43 per cent said they would adhere to them most, but not all, of the time.
And despite Covid-19 testing being offered free to those who have acute respiratory infection – a potential warning sign of the coronavirus – one in four has declined such testing because of the fear that it will be uncomfortable.
Already, as the economy reopens in stages, some people are trying to find “creative” ways to floutthe measures that are meant to keep us safe.
Dozens of outlets have been penalised for pulling stunts such as hiding beer in teapots, citing “safe distancing measures” to keep enforcement officers from conducting checks, and seating groups of 10 diners in a private room when the limit for a group gathering is five. The patrons are equally to blame for their role in such breaches.
This is a critical juncture in the fight against Covid-19.
It is the equivalent of entering the third lap of a 2.4km run that has six laps. Most people who grew up in Singapore know the pain of that dreaded physical-education test – not short enough for you to sprint and get it over with quickly (like with the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, which lasted about four months here), and not long enough that you can jog along slowly.
In this race, the third lap makes it or breaks it. You are already exhausted from running nearly half the race, but it seems there is still no end in sight, and you just want to give up, which many runners with a promising start end up doing.
At that point, it is mind over matter. It is the midpoint of the race, the tipping point; how we run this lap determines if we can finish the race well.
RELAXING TOO EARLY
Many other countries have been at this stage, too, and relaxed too early.
South Korea was praised for controlling its outbreak without needing a lockdown, but saw a second wave when it eased social distancing guidelines and people began to visit bars and nightclubs.
More than 35,000 people there had to be tested in May after just one man who went club-hopping later turned out to be infected.
More recently, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention declared the pandemic “back in full swing” after church members attended a protest, forming a new cluster.
The country has now had to extend its social distancing measures till Sunday, and may do so beyond its Chuseok holiday, when families are traditionally reunited.
Meanwhile, in Britain, following the easing of the country’s first lockdown, crowds of people were reported to be ignoring social distancing rules and even protesting over the use of masks.
A second lockdown is now looming as cases surge once again, and Britain’s death toll stands at more than 41,000 – the highest in Europe. The authorities there have warned of a potential 50,000 new daily cases if no action is taken.
Even Vietnam, initially hailed as a haven from Covid-19 with no reported deaths, and months with no community transmission, was forced into a lockdown following a sudden spike at the end of July.
Reports said that local residents had lowered their guard about wearing masks and social distancing in public owing to the seeming safety from the virus, with many also redoubling their holidays around the country.
There is a troubling pattern here: The virus hits a country, measures are put in place, cases drop, people get tired and complacent about public health measures, numbers soar again, and restrictions are once again imposed.
WHAT ABOUT SINGAPORE?
Will we fall into the same pattern as other countries?
I am sure those of us who make compromises do not do it out of malicious intent to spread the virus further. After all, we may think that wearing a mask all day is so tiring, we can do without it sometimes. And working from home or getting retrenched is already stressful enough – do we not deserve a little break?
Perhaps. But in times of war, the enemy does not care how tired you are, or how difficult life has been for you. And make no mistake, we are at war with a pernicious virus, one that we must either beat or be beaten by. It’s unpleasant to hear, but it is true.
But there is hope. Although Singaporeans are often seen as a people who love to complain, when push comes to shove, we are survivors, and we will overcome as we have every time in the past.
Aside from following safe distancing measures, practising good hand hygiene and wearing a mask, we should also look out for those around us who may have a hard time doing so.
You can help out in your own small way, by encouraging your friends and loved ones to keep to the measures.
And yes, maybe Covid-19 cases will spring up again in spite of your best efforts, because of other people’s inconsiderate actions.
We cannot control this.
But when I look back on this crisis, I want to be able to tell my children that I did everything I could to lend a hand – that in times of trouble, I stood up for Singapore, in my own small way.
You may have a different source of motivation – it doesn’t matter what it is. Just do it for the good of the country, or for your family, friends or even yourself. Whatever it is, to adapt the lyrics of that same well-known song:
Be prepared to give a little more,
Tahan, tahan for Singapore.
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