A Postcard from Singapore

28 May 2020

In Singapore, the only thing that matters is our safety, not our lives. Despite a tiny number of deaths amongst the elderly, and despite evidence from around the world showing the true nature of the virus, Singapore still embarked on a four-week lockdown as late as April 7th. We were told to stay at home, and most businesses and schools were closed. We were fined $300 for stretching out on the grass. An app was circulated for reporting any non-compliance with the rules. A couple of days in, we were banned from leaving the house without a face mask. Adult masks were given freely out, but when I enquired about children’s masks I was told that there were none, and that my children should stay at home. Two weeks in, and cases of COVID-19 in the already-quarantined foreign workers were still increasing, so the government announced a four-week extension of the nationwide lockdown (now until June 1st) and told us we could only go out alone, not with our households – no fines though, so I could still escape with the kids. To date, about 26,000 workers have tested positive out of 325,000. This matters little, because had they done more tests (which they could have done, I’m sure) they would have found more cases. Not one has died. We’re told by the PM, “luckily they are mainly young and healthy”. They’re OK in the body, of course: the government is taking care of them, which has effectively amounted to eight weeks’ imprisonment in single rooms with an hour’s exercise outdoors for their safety. How about their minds? But when they’re let back out, they can return to their disgracefully-paid jobs keeping Singapore clean (and safe).

The government denies that this is a lockdown, preferring to use the term “circuit-breaker”. What has emerged is a stifling climate of caution and of watching everyone else. It’s densely populated here – many of us live in apartments, and it’s impossible to escape the neighbours. I’m part of a “wellness network”, and the professionals are livid: they spend their lives working on what makes them and their clients well – exercise, nutrition, the outdoors – so that that they and their clients might go unscathed when things like this happen. Their agency over their lives and bodies has been taken away, and they’ve been made to do things that are harmful to them.

A recent study by a Singapore university showed that not one in 500 patients were infectious after eleven days.1https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/covid-19-patients-no-longer-infectious-11-days-after-getting-sick-research-shows Yet, the government continues with its charade of thousands of active cases. It has decided to keep positive cases quarantined until either two negative tests, or 28 days (17 days longer than being infectious) has elapsed. You can’t get a clearer example of politics-over-science than this. The government has given us daily updates on cases since January, and we welcomed their transparency when we thought the number of cases was important. Now we know that cases don’t reflect infections – merely testing numbers – because this virus is mild for the majority, or asymptomatic. That was when I began to feel assured (mistakenly) that this virus isn’t severe, and that here in Singapore they’ve got a handle on it and we won’t be locked down. I was so wrong.

Children return to school next week. They have to wear masks or shields if they’re over two years old, as well as socially distance themselves – despite the role of children in this pandemic being negligible, and the risk to them inconsequential. This policy has put the welfare of our children at the bottom of the pile. As a parent, to put the welfare of my children first, I would now have to break the law and perhaps even deny them their beautiful school and the fantastic education they were once able to enjoy. The needless misery being spread is criminal.

The government has announced its re-opening strategy as being in three phases: Safe-Reopening, Safe-Transition, and Safe-Nation. Phase 1 is a virtual continuation of the eight-week lockdown for many people, except older politicians (I mean all seniors) can now see their supposedly highly-infectious grandchildren. The rest is going to be so slow, and the face mask-wearing will continue for the foreseeable future. A recent survey found that 40% of F&B (“Food and Beverage”) businesses will be out of business by the end of June, so today we had no new cases in the community for the first time in months, and an announcement was made that we can eat out soon – in groups of no more than five. This sounds like a miserable experience and will do little to help the industry: we can’t see friends, we can’t travel, and our children can’t go to school and engage in their education freely. Soon we will have robots policing our parks, and we’re already tracked-and-traced for every movement. For our safety. I used to be able to overlook government control here, for the quality-of-life benefits; but now these have been removed, I would like to remove myself. The problem is that my husband and I both have businesses here (mine has been decimated), so where would we run to? We’re British, after all. Something needs to be done, but it won’t happen until there’s a treatment or a forced vaccine. Expats will soon be leaving in droves.

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