I last wrote about the COVID-19 situation about a month ago. The situation has changed dramatically around the world since then, so I thought I would provide an update on the latest in Singapore.
I won’t rehash some of the early efforts Singapore took (you can check out my first post if you missed it here), but I will say that early interventions in Singapore have given the government more flexibility and levers to pull on as the situation progresses. As the virus spread widely and uncontrollably, governments around the world had no choice but to pull the “nuclear option” and institute a lockdown. Singapore, for the most part, has managed to control the spread (through aggressive contact tracing, temperature taking and social distancing measures) and has been able to delay locking down the country.
Through the month of March, there were increasingly strict regulations around social distancing issued. While most of the world started to shut down, we were able to continue daily life with only minor inconveniences. Restaurants were still open (with some tables blocked out to maintain distance). You were still allowed to get together with friends (up to groups of 10). Gyms and recreation facilities were still open (my gym limited class sizes to 10 and also held outdoor bootcamps). Schools were still open. Offices were still open (with encouragement to telecommute where possible).
At the end of March, Singapore decided to take additional border control measures (travel from China and other high-risk countries were already restricted). Singaporean citizens are still allowed to return, but the government closed the border to short-term visitors (tourists, people transiting) and only allowing employment pass holders in essential services (such as health care) to return. This means that employment pass holders (like me!) are effectively locked into the country (if we leave, we need to get special permission before returning, which isn’t being granted right now). Anyone returning from abroad needs to do 14 days in isolation with daily check-ins from the government (I heard that you had to be on video with an official so they could monitor that you were at home and to take your temperature live and show the result). Communications from the government around the end of March showed that case numbers were increasing, but the majority were imported cases (from folks who would already be in isolation).
In the last week, locally transmitted cases have climbed, and the number of unlinked cases (that is, cases where they couldn’t identify the infection source via contact tracing) have also increased. On Friday, the government announced a partial lockdown (a “circuit breaker”) to continue to control the spread of local cases. Starting tomorrow, offices, schools, recreational facilities and retail outlets will close (essential services will remain open) and we will join family and friends around the world in getting to know every corner of our homes.
Overall, I remain highly impressed by the government’s response and communications during this difficult time. The press conference on Friday to announce these new measures was organized, thoughtful, on message and inspired confidence in the government’s ability to control the situation. The government issues daily updates on the situation (via WhatsApp, available in all 4 official languages). The thoroughness and transparency is effective. Finally, the government has taken steps to prevent a run on essential goods. They have assured Singaporeans of the availability of food (beyond an initial run on grocery stores at the beginning of February, stores remain well-stocked). They also issued 500mL of hand sanitizer and a reusable mask to all residents, which I picked up this weekend.
I miss everyone back home and wish all of you well. As a silver lining, I am so glad to get to schedule some extra FaceTime and Zoom calls – keep including me. In the meantime, stay safe and stay home!
It will be a long fight. But if any country can see this through, it is Singapore. We have the resources. We have the determination. We are united. By helping one another through this, we will prevail, and emerge stronger.Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong