Singapore’s Phase 2 reopening is a breath of fresh air on unmasked faces (when eating out), the bittersweet taste of a freshly-brewed latte sipped from a real coffee cup, the sound of neighbours’ mahjong tiles clacking into the wee hours of the night, the excited chatter among friends and sweet reunions between couples who have not seen each other physically in the past two and a half months.
After the austerity and loneliness of the circuit breaker, for many, Phase 2 is a semblance of normalcy returning, freedom restored.
Finally, retail shops, gyms and sports facilities like pools have reopened. Dining-in at restaurants and social gatherings of up to five are also allowed, within guidelines.
After more than two months of being stuck at home, Singaporeans naturally could not wait to resume social activities, making appointments with friends and loved ones once it was announced that Phase 2 would begin on 19 June. Some popular restaurants were even fully booked in advance for the first weekend.
On the reopening weekend itself, people went out and about their activities at shopping malls, coffee shops, hawker centres, restaurants and bars.
While many people who were enjoying this newfound freedom were responsibly wearing masks and maintaining safe distancing, things turned unpleasant in popular nightspot Holland Village and a coffee shop in Bukit Batok where fights broke out, leading to the arrest of five men. Videos circulating online showed police stepping in as the situation grew violent.
Subsequently, British India Curry Hut, a restaurant and bar at Holland Village was ordered to close for not ensuring safe distancing measures as crowds had gathered outside the eatery; a photo showed groups of people in the restaurant’s outdoor seating area packed closely together. Outdoor refreshment areas along the Lorong Mambong area have also since been removed.
Furthermore, the authorities have clarified that face masks should only be removed when eating or drinking at F&B establishments and not “for the sole purpose of talking to others”. The Ministry of Health, which issued the clarification in response to media queries, said that this was after observations made during the last weekend when people started to head out in Phase 2.
Towards a new Covid-safe normal
We may be taking a significant step in moving towards a new normal, but we are not out of the woods yet. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a televised address on June 23, “this is just the end of the beginning phase”.
Until a vaccine is found, Covid-19 is no less a threat than it was before.
We need to continue to be vigilant and socially responsible – maintaining personal hygiene, wearing masks and not gathering in large groups – so that a second wave of local infections can be avoided.
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We also need to be mindful of what is happening around us in order to respond correctly.
And with Polling Day announced to be on July 10, we may be caught up with the excitement over voting for GE 2020, but we still need to be vigilant in our daily interactions.
For example, if someone forgets to keep a safe distance from you while queueing, a gentle and polite reminder should make things right. If the lift already has four people inside, wait for the next one instead of squeezing in.
For those who are in schools or workplaces, it is great to be able to hang out with friends and colleagues again, but we can still be responsible, keeping a safe distance while catching up with each other. We can also look out for one another, especially the vulnerable, by checking on their health and well-being.
While this means a little more effort and time on our part, let’s continue to be considerate as we resume social activities to keep public spaces safe for all to enjoy.
Phase 2 is a new lease on life, a much-celebrated easing of circuit breaker measures. But let’s not abuse the limited freedom we have been given.
The fight is not over. The virus still lurks within the community, and the more we put our guard down, the more likely it will return with a vengeance. If this happens, all the sacrifices we, and our frontline heroes who have worked tirelessly at the forefront of the battle have made, would go to waste.
In Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong’s words: Phase 2 requires Singaporeans to “further strengthen individual responsibility and discipline” in order to keep the number of community cases low amidst the re-opening of the economy.
“All of us need to really look at the spirit of the requirements and do our part to allow for the reopening to take place in a safe and sustainable manner.”
So as we head out to feel the winds of freedom in our hair again, let’s continue to show consideration for others in practising safe distancing and wearing of masks. That’s being kind, not just to others, but to ourselves in Phase 2 and beyond.