Today (April 2) is my first day back at the office after a 14-day mandatory Stay Home Notice (SHN), also known to many Singaporeans as cannot leave home.
Although 14 days is a short time, with so much happening outside, it felt like an eternity.
This is my story.
15 days ago, I arrived back in Singapore from Malaysia, a country deemed to be at a high risk of exposure to Covid-19. Singapore had just announced a wave of border restrictions, where all travelers, including Singapore residents who had travelled to ASEAN countries, UK, Japan and Switzerland, were to be issued a 14-day SHN.
When the news broke on the evening of 15 March, my night was spent replying to texts from concerned relatives, friends and colleagues asking me if I would be able to book a flight back the next day to “beat the clock”.
It seemed like there were many clocks to beat because right after that came the news that Malaysia would implement its Movement Control Order (MCO) from 18 March. A second surge of texts came asking me to leave the country before it went into effect.
Well, I was on a flight back to Singapore on the day the MCO started.
For those who may not yet know the details, a SHN is different from a Quarantine Order (QO) or a Leave of Absence (LOA). In a SHN, I am not allowed out of my place of residence, even if I need essentials such as food. I had to make my own arrangements. Those who are on quarantine have essentials provided for them while people on LOA could pop out for a bit to grab them. What I was going through was essentially home detention, but without legal charges against me. That being said, I could potentially face legal consequences if I breached it. It is that serious.
Contrary to what some people may think, I did not have the luxury of staying in a hotel with a city or sea view. These were only reserved for returning Singapore residents travelling from the UK or US from 24 March.
Proving myself for the next 14 days
While I waited to see what was in store for me upon landing in Singapore, countless thoughts ran through my mind. It was the first time I truly felt uncertainty, confusion and guilt during Covid-19. Even though Covid-19 has been in the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, this is the first time it truly hit home personally. Even though I left the country before the official travel advisory was announced, would people see me as irresponsible and inconsiderate for travelling during this period of uncertainty? What would my employer say? Would I be required to use my annual leave to cover my absence from the office during the 14 days?
While many did not voice out their opinions directly, it definitely felt like it was me against the world at that point in time; I truly felt the sting of loneliness in self-isolation.
I felt a strong need to prove to others that I was not going to be a statistic and that I was still able to perform my duties while working from home (WFH).
I gave myself two main goals over the next 2 weeks. First, to make sure that I did not fall sick or develop a fever. Second, to be more responsive and attentive while working from home. This came at a time where there was a surge in import cases and where companies were still trying to get WFH protocols in place.
Day 0, the day I landed in Singapore, was uneventful. I researched what I needed to do during my SHN and waited for someone to contact me with instructions on what was expected of me. None came. It was only on Day 1 that I got a text from ICA telling me to report my location via GPS tracking on my mobile phone. Subsequently, these texts started coming two to three times a day at regular intervals.
There was also a warning that at random times; officials would come by to conduct checks or I would be required to submit a photo of myself and my surroundings. While the officials never came, requests for photos started coming in after about a week into my SHN.
I am a homebody, but I also love taking strolls around the supermarket, especially at the NTUC Xtra just opposite where I live. Since the reporting was done via the GPS function on my mobile phone, I thought that there could be pockets of time where I could sneak out to the supermarket and foodcourt to grab some supplies. After days spent within the four walls of my home, the temptation was REAL. It was so enticing, I even gave it a codename: Operation Silent.
After some calculations, I determined that Operation Silent’s success rate would be almost 100% if no one knew about it. Thankfully, I came to my senses and aborted the plan. I figured the risks and consequences were simply not worth it. If I was reported and caught, I could have to pay a fine of up to $10,000 or be jailed for up to six months, or both. Lastly, and most importantly, how could I deal with the guilt if I were ill and by going out, put others around me at risk of catching the virus?
A few days after I aborted Operation Silent, it was reported that several people were under investigation for breaching their SHNs. One man allegedly went out for bak kut teh upon returning from Myanmar and another had his passport cancelled after ignoring his SHN upon returning from Indonesia. These two cases serve as a warning to show just how serious SHNs should be taken.
Physically distant, but socially connected
While that was happening, I had to deal with another growing concern. My supplies were running out. Before this, I have never had to worry about food or going hungry. Never did I imagine the day would come where this concern would become a reality for me. I stay with family, but no one cooks and during the day, everyone is out at work.
Granted, there were food delivery options, but I didn’t like the idea of paying a $4 delivery fee just to eat a $5 plate of chicken rice that I can get with a 5-minute walk.
“Aiya, no choice lah, you just gotta do it,” was the response some gave. But many know that I’m stubborn like that.
What I did not expect was how family, friends, colleagues and even ex-interns started reaching out to me, offering to get needed essentials. I was really touched by their kind gestures and accepted some offers for help from those who lived nearer to me. They would buy the items and leave it at my doorstep for me to pick up while they were a safe distance away.
Technology helped a great deal in helping to curb the loneliness. I was able to stay connected to people I cared about. Video calls became my favourite mode of communication as I could still see the people I was talking to while hearing their voices.
As I bid farewell to my 14 days of SHN, I started thinking. With Covid-19, would life ever go back to what it used to be?
Working from home while on SHN has got me used to the “new normal” of what is to come. My organisation has just implemented full telecommuting. This means I’m going to have to get used to working from home more now. Although there are inconveniences, I’m not complaining. Working from home has its benefits, such as waking up at 8.50am and starting work at 9am. I’ve not been this punctual in recent months and being able to save time and money on commuting is a welcome change.
A humbling experience
There are some lessons that I took away from my experience.
First, being socially responsible is a serious matter. That means ensuring that we keep ourselves safe and healthy to protect those around us, especially the vulnerable. Although I do not have anyone in my household that is particularly vulnerable, it does not mean that I can proceed with life as normal. My SHN experience has shown me that the Government trusts us. It could have opted for a more heavy-handed and draconian approach but I’m glad that it has chosen to put its faith in the honesty and public spiritedness of Singaporeans.
Second, small gestures mean a great deal. Being put in a situation where I had to depend on others to help me with basic needs made this fact very clear to me. Freedom of movement is something that I have always taken for granted. But another thing that I have taken for granted is the daily acts of kindness from people around me. It has been ingrained in me from a young age to thank people for helping me, but this period has taught me to be mindful and take more effort in showing appreciation to those who extend a helping hand.
Third, self-care is important. Use the time to improve your well-being and state of mind. I’m not gonna lie. The first few days were tough. The pressure I gave myself to prove my worth took its toll. However, as the days passed, these pressures mattered less. People who reached out showed me that there is still room to care in a time like this. I also dedicated 30 minutes daily to work out, something that I have not managed to do in a long time.
We are all in it together
While I was cooped up at home, I was still able to keep up with news. Things around Singapore are looking vastly different, with markers on seats at food establishments and snaking queues but empty malls. But take heart, this will pass.
To all those who are currently serving your SHN, you will get through this. Take this time to connect with others and be kind, especially to yourself. Help is always close by, you just have to ask.
To people who have friends serving SHN, offer help and show care for them. This is the time where your presence means a lot to them.
Safe distancing means staying further from each other physically in the next few weeks or months, but that doesn’t mean we should stay socially isolated. Make up for it by caring for each other more as we are all in this fight against Covid-19 together.
Side note: I’ve not eaten a single packet of instant noodles during the whole duration of SHN. Achievement unlocked!