It’s raining outside my office window as I write this.
The rain is coming down like the news is hitting us. A sudden torrent, then slowing to drips and drabs.
The downpour started at noon with the news: “Group sizes down to two. Dining-in suspended”.
After the drenching came the drizzle of speculation, with rumours swirling much like water droplets in the breeze. Are school children going to have an early mid-year holiday? Are they going back to home-based learning? Are we… whispers… going into another circuit breaker?
I get a text on the office WhatsApp group. Today’s my last day in the office for the rest of May and for much of June – we’re going back to working from home.
It’s something that many companies have already been leaning towards ever since the recent increase in locally-transmitted Covid-19 cases popping up in the community.
In fact, it has been part of the background pandemic rumblings in our everyday conversations these few weeks. We all feel its weight, a heaviness behind our sometimes forced levity. A fear that underpins our positivity. It has reared its ugly head with alleged racist attacks in the past weeks.
And now, the rain has come, so to speak.
On May 16, two days from now, Singapore will be in Phase 2 (Heightened Alert). This will last till June 13, with a review at the midway point.
During this time, a swathe of precautionary measures will be implemented, including a reduction in the size of group gatherings, a cessation of dining-in and a return to WFH.
Speaking at a multi-ministry task force press conference today (May 13), Minister Wong said: “This will apply across the board, so if you want to go out for anything, grocery shopping, exercise, maximum of two persons henceforth. In fact, we strongly encourage everyone to stay home as much as possible, go out only for essential reasons.
Dining-in will have to stop… All F&B establishments can only offer takeaway and delivery options.
“We will do a review at the midway point, meaning two weeks after the measures have been implemented, and at that point we will look at the prevailing public health situation and see if there’s a need to adjust the measures further,” he added.
So are we due for another circuit breaker at the midpoint review? The answer: Maybe.
Mr Wong said: “If indeed the situation does not improve, we certainly will not rule out even more stringent measures thereafter. But there is also a chance that things may improve, and therefore, we may also consider the other way around, easing some of the restrictions.”
In other words, see how.
That’s scary, and yet that’s fair, in a sense.
As I was joking to some friends yesterday at a dinner (there were five of us), we are overreacting… but we are overreacting in exactly the correct way. Now, with today’s announcement, it looks like we’re taking things to the next level.
Covid-19 has been with us for more than a year now, and our previous successes leading up to our recent situation have left us with a certain contempt for the lethality of the pandemic.
We read about Europe’s third wave and India’s burning bodies in the streets and we are rightfully appalled. We heave a sigh of relief and say “phew, thank goodness it’s not happening here”, yet we have been treating Covid-19 more like an annoyance than a potentially fatal disease that has infected more than 161 million people and claimed the lives of more than 3.3 million so far.
Up till the end of April, our biggest challenges in the new normal were finding ways of using our SingapoRediscover vouchers and trying to sort out the best hybrid working arrangement.
If you want any proof, you just need to go to a mall at any time in the past few months. Crowds were back. Masks were on, but more often for show, hanging from a ear or tucked under a chin with a handy open beverage nearby. There was a certain lackadaisical attitude to the Safe Entry jagas too.
Feeling judge-y? Ask yourself, have you been diligently checking in and out everywhere you go? Yep, I thought so too.
In short, we were getting complacent.
I’m guilty of it myself. When the government announced new measures on May 4 to combat the initial increase of Covid-19 cases in the community, I paid attention to the news only when I realised that it meant no more sessions at the gym for me.
That’s the issue: We have been thinking of ourselves too much.
Other stories you might like
Complaints on social media
On social media, I’m seeing reports of people posting a final hurrah.
On Reddit, one thread on the announcement got almost a thousand responses in an hour. One redditor’s first reaction was to book a Saturday steamboat dinner. Another was to complain about having to cancel their Sunday appointment.
Redditor senpaimustdie bemoaned the bad timing: “Just wanted to rant. Last year we had planned a wedding before Covid hit. Nearer to our wedding, CB hit and we had to postpone. Venue gave us one more year to postpone and here we are. Was looking forward to the reception which is in a few weeks time and… CB again… Sian leh.”
In another thread, people were posting photos of Singaporeans thronging the supermarket, even prompting Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing to remind us not rush to stock up on essentials. Sounds like 2020 much?
On Facebook, many posters were indulging in their favourite Singaporean past-time – complaining.
I understand the frustration. No one likes to have their plans derailed and for many Singaporeans, especially those working in heavily affected industries like F&B and hospitality, it can be a stressful time.
But I want to remind everyone that blowing off steam on social media is one thing, but too much negativity feeds into a toxic environment.
There are some people who will always find something to complain about: They were right all along, it is everyone else’s fault but theirs; they saw it coming but no one paid attention to them; and now, see lah?
To that I say, okay, you’re right, shall we see how we can proceed from here?
Whatever we want to call it, we are in a heightened alert now. There are more restrictions, but it’s not a circuit breaker. We’ve empowered our leaders to make decisions to keep us safe, they have shared information with us – agree or disagree, now is not the time to indulge in “i-told-you-so”s.
No one is really safe until all of us are safe. That is the grim reality of our new pandemic normal.
We are still better in Singapore now than some other parts of the world. We are taking steps to ensure that we can go back to that level. The rise in cases, especially with the new variants, makes things a little scary now and it’s normal to vent.
But after venting, let’s go back to working together to keep each other safe.
Let’s not just think of our personal inconveniences. Let’s remember our frontline workers who are still tirelessly keeping us safe even as we complain about not being able to meet our friends for tea.
Let’s support our F&B and hospitality industries so that they can weather this new squall in the Covid-19 storm.
Let’s stop this nonsense about treating TTSH hospital workers or Indian expatriates badly. We are better than this.
Let’s stop complaining and work together please. We did this last year, and we can do it again.
I called up a friend of mine, who is celebrating her birthday this weekend, and asked about her plans to eat out at a fancy restaurant.
“Cancelled,” she said glumly, “better safe than sorry.”
“It’s okay, though,” she continued, “the family is okay with it. We can have as a good celebration at home. I want to lead by example so that my kids (especially my teenage son) know we are serious about being safe and follow suit.”
I’m looking out of my office window again. The rain has stopped. It’s gloomy out. But the sun will come out soon.
I’m looking forward to that. In the meantime, let’s all keep calm and carry on.
Oh, and you might want to cut your hair.