Road to Recovery: What does this lockdown mean to Singaporeans?

Looking back in the first half of 2021, Singapore was doing well in curbing the virus, keeping in less than 10 daily infections. With the greater reassurance of the increased relaxation of restrictions, Singaporeans may forget that COVID-19 is still floating somewhere in the community.

After months of the commencement of Phase 3, new virus variants have emerged around the globe, and more neighboring countries have embraced higher infection counts with a heightened state of emergency.

While Taiwan enjoyed a year with little viral resistance, an unprecedented wave of new infections swept across the provinces, hitting 300 daily cases to set an all-time high record. This took a big swing on the mental state of its citizens and led to more panic buying and stockpiling of supplies, like what Singaporeans experienced in April 2020.

Likewise, Singapore has launched a lockdown-like phase called Phase 2 (Heightened alert), bringing back restrictions to gathering sizes, social activities, and dining options from 16 May to 13 June.

Since dining options were made unavailable, it means that limited social activities would take place. And this might be one that will change the whole consumer behavior of society.

Why did we end up rolling back to Phase 2?

Other than the recent Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) infection clusters, there were more community cases where potential virus spread occur as we overlook some of the simplest rules set by the government. Without factoring in the frequent imported cases, there was a spike in the daily community cases which ranges from 5 to 18 per day. Right now, these numbers surpassed the 30s and everyone panicked over a potential lockdown in the coming weeks.

While I couldn’t help blaming for our complacency as a society, we weren’t doing enough to prevent such outbreaks. As a young millennial who often patronizes local shopping malls, hawker centers, and artisan cafes, I realized we weren’t breaking the rules, but many careless acts would jeopardize our progress in curbing COVID-19.

Though my observations are not exhaustive, I felt we could have done better as they were within our control.

Removing masks during meals

While it is not illegal to remove masks for meals, I was especially worried when people chat over an extended period because they were too excited to meet their friends.

To me, removing masks in the public space over a prolonged period is considered a high-risk activity as minute particles could travel across our faces. Who knows if you are speaking to an asymptotic individual? No one would probably admit it.

When we are in air-conditioned enclosed areas (E.g. Cafes), it will require more individual social responsibility to maintain safe distancing and adequate masking habits. Enjoying our meals in public space is almost like a privilege, so we should not take it for granted.

Sharing of food

It was common for most ethnicities to share food on their dining tables, and often not all were practicing adequate personal hygiene through using serving spoons. Most would scoop the dishes with our own utensils with little hesitation, which is not hygienic given the current situation.

Popular food options like hotpots and 8-course meals promote a higher transmission rate, which should be avoided at all costs. Unless you eat with your family members, this should not be a default dine-in meal if you are with your friends.

Any virus spread could occur through transferring bodily fluids (saliva), and it is most likely self-inflicted because of the meal. While instilling new eating habits can be tough in the short term, it is necessary to take immediate precautions as this will be a bigger problem in the long run. If this habit persists in many households, no amount of sanitization will help.

Flouting of limited gathering sizes

As we become more creative in managing our gathering size through “special” arrangements such as splitting a group of ten into two tables, this simple circumvention could work wonders. For those used to meet in large groups, intermingling across groups may be a big problem.

How I see intermingling is that if anyone in the group is having a slight cough, it can increase the chances of us meeting that sick person. This applies to those visiting their friends in their humble abode, which clearly exceeds the visiting limit. Refraining from posting photos online is almost like a common practice these days, which is also unethical.

Though limiting group sizes is not a foolproof method, it may be one of the simplest ways to limit our exposure to the virus. While it might disappoint most of us, I could see how the government works with the rules without clearly enforcing stricter restrictions.

So, what does this lockdown means to us?

After a few days in Phase 2, the local media reported higher daily cases that spread across many public amenities, and strongly encouraged those who visited infected areas to get swabbed. This was not by chance as the authorities might have expected a stronger second wave of infections sweeping the state.

While limiting entries to public spaces cause some anxiety but meeting in pairs was still permitted. As dine-in options were retracted, this could be a key countermeasure to our poor self-awareness and hygiene standards in public areas.

It was no surprise that we Singaporeans were aware of how the new virus variant could once again sweep our economic progress to dirt in a few days and weeks, where we could see another fiery fall of the various sectors.

Most construction projects have been severely delayed because of the tighter travel restrictions of migrant workers, stretching most businesses thin on a budget to hire expensive alternatives. And this lockdown could also hit the retail and Food and Beverages (F&B) sectors harder than before as working from home (WFH) arrangement is the default.

Apart from impeding the excellent progress from the tourism sector, it discourages more service providers from staying in this endangering trade.

Many would have raised questions about the uncertain market outlook that projects throughout the next few years before we see an improvement in the pandemic.

  1. How is this Phase 2 (Heightened alert) different from the circuit breaker (CB) in April 2020?
  2. Would we see another rise in the unemployment rate before the Government raises more budget for the Job Support Scheme (JSS)?
  3. Apart from being a global financial hub, how will Singapore adapt to the current situation? Are we going to invest more in the other sectors to build a more sustainable economy?
  4. How can our future graduates adjust to the rapidly changing world ahead of them?
  5. Besides being financially prudent, what can we do to retire adequately with the rising living standards in Singapore?
  6. With the frequent speculations of entering annual lockdowns, what could be the next step for aspiring entrepreneurs?

As we started working through the uncertain market, we realized we could hardly make any long-term plans as we were constantly suffering setbacks with the significant shift in the severity of the pandemic.

When anxiety kicks in, we might wonder what if things will never return to as before? What I have noticed that might never be changed in a short time is that we are still longing for the pre-COVID-19 times to return.

With the developing pandemic, many traditional business models could fail awfully to keep up with the trends, and the same goes for our mindsets. The glamorous iron ‘’rice bowls’’ will never return, and constant upskilling is the way to secure a lifeline in the industry.

The career consultants who scramble to give advice for those who want to score in the rising industries are also the ones who come from the outdated and conventional business environment. While everyone seems to gather enough information about the new post-COVID-19 world, only a handful knows how to navigate it.

Before we explore our options into unchartered borders, we need to understand how our decisions can affect our lives in the long run. Without understanding the impact of the current changes, you will never know how to navigate into a future we can’t imagine.

While having a plan is a good idea but plans that can’t keep up with changes may not be ideal. What we can learn from the lockdown is that we must let go of our preconceived perceptions of the world and start working with more unknown variables.

With that, it will be a lot easier for us to embrace another few more lockdowns and strive rather than wait for more opportunities in the post-lockdown period.

About The Author:

Vince Law is an Accountancy graduate from Singapore Management University. He has worked at one of the Big 4 Accounting firms and having completed a consulting internship with an SME in Singapore. After his graduation, he will be heading to one of the Big 4 Accounting firms as a business consultant. During his free time, he writes on topics related to personal development and current affairs through his lens.

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