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The term Quarantine Order (QO) has appeared on the news so often that we tend to take it for granted. We understand what QO is, but are we aware of what it entails?

In the past week, the number of new cases increased to more than 1,000 a day, with a record-breaking 1,939 cases yesterday. More (mostly unvaccinated seniors) are sadly succumbing to the disease and today (Sept 27), we tighten Covid measures, including having dine-in, social group sizes cut to 2, and WFH as the default again.

Like many Singaporeans, I’ve grown accustomed to the new Covid normal. I’ve been diligent in washing my hands, monitoring my health and sanitising my environment but I have to admit that I have had a nonchalant attitude towards Covid.

Then I got a QO. This is my story.

29 Aug: A rude surprise

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Image Source: Tan Kerng Ngee

On Aug 29, my aunt texted in our family chat that she was informed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) that she was exposed to a Covid case and was “strongly encouraged” to go for a swab test.

My first thoughts weren’t of fear, but of frustration.

My mind swirled with questions: Would we need to serve a QO? We visited my grandparents, who lived with my aunt and uncle recently. So did another uncle and his family. Did this mean we needed to self-quarantine if she tested positive? Did we need to tell someone if she did? Would we be told?

What about my grandparents? My grandpa is bed-ridden and needs special care. What’s going to happen to him? Where could my aunt have been exposed?

My mum and I suddenly became Covid detectives, grilling my aunt on where she had gone on Aug 25, the day she was exposed to the Covid case.

After many questions, we found out she had visited a nearby shopping mall and some neighbourhood shops that day — it had to be those high-traffic places, we concluded.

“Wah, so many unlinked cases in the community hor, so scary,” my mum remarked.

All we could do that night was to wait for my aunt to go for the swab test the next day.

30 Aug: Gloom

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Gloomy outside, gloomy inside. Image source: Tan Kerng Ngee

It was pouring that morning. The howling wind woke me and I peered out into a grey gloomy rain-soaked morning. What a day to do a swab test, I thought to myself.

It was so stormy that my aunt went for her swab in the afternoon. I still remember the constant pings from the group chat as my mum kept asking if my aunt had gone for the test yet.

That morning I couldn’t focus on work (we are still on WFH). I told my supervisor what happened and he suggested that my mum and I do the Antigen Rapid Test (ART).

So I went out and got test kits for everyone in my household, as we hadn’t yet received free ART kits from Temasek. We did the test and the results were all negative.

ART kit Quarantine Order
Image Source: Tan Kerng Ngee

31 Aug: We were okay!

My aunt’s PCR (polymerase chain reaction) result came back negative and we all heaved a sigh of relief.

Back to our daily life, we congratulated each other on the group chat.

Little did we know what was going to happen the next day.

1 Sep: The rollercoaster continues

My granny’s helper had developed flu symptoms over the Aug 28 weekend, but she got better after some rest and medicine at home — we all thought it was just some sniffles. That was the weekend we visited my grandparents.

However, the helper’s flu got worse after our visit and my aunt decided to take her to see a doctor.

I still remember it vividly: It was 1pm and I just had my lunch when she called.

She said: “Ah girl ah, I know you are busy with work but please listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.”

At that moment, I knew something serious was about to happen to our family.

My aunt continued: “Ah Mon (my granny’s helper) has tested positive on the ART. Although the PCR test result is not out yet, the clinic has informed MOH and she will be sent to the quarantine centre soon.”

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I panicked, all those worries that I had a few days ago came flooding back. What’s going to happen next?

Both my aunt and I agreed that while waiting for MOH instructions, we should all self-quarantine. I immediately called my parents who were out at work to come home as soon as they could.

I wasn’t the only one dizzied by the news. My granny was stunned when my aunt told her. And her helper burst into tears.

She kept crying as she was packing for her quarantine, and my aunt tried to comfort her by patting her on the arm. My aunt told me that it was a small gesture of kindness that she felt she had to do, even though she may risk getting infected.

After packing, Ah Mon waited in the corridor for the MOH officer to arrive. As she waited, a neighbour stepped out of his house. Quickly, my aunt called out that our helper had tested positive. From his door, he shouted back to our helper: “Don’t worry! You’ll be in good hands!”

About two hours later, the ambulance arrived to take Ah Mon to the quarantine centre. I heard from my granny that the whole house was in chaos after Ah Mon left — every item she had used and every surface she touched was sanitised with hot water and cleaning products.

But the biggest worry has yet to come. My granny has a bad back and my grandpa is bedridden. Who’s going to help my aunt and uncle take care of my grandparents?

Back at my house, I was cancelling plans, from my gym bookings to a staycation I had planned, because I knew that my QO was coming. I was also frantically trying to search online for SOPs or MOH protocols that best fit my situation: My mum and I visited my grandparents that Sunday but my dad was at home. Would he need to serve QO too?

I couldn’t get the answers I needed online — friends and relatives didn’t know anything either. In the end, we gave up and waited to get a call from MOH.

It was a nail-biting wait. MOH didn’t call us that day. We were so worried that we could have Covid. We didn’t have any ART kits left and we couldn’t go out to get more.

We couldn’t sleep that night.

2 Sept: Tension builds

Quarantine Order - Tension Builds up trying to call MOH
Calling MOH. Image source: Tan Kerng Ngee

That morning, I called MOH for updates and I was put on hold for so long that I hung up.

Left with no choice, we tried to get back into a routine. But no one was in the mood to work. Then reality started to sink in: If everyone was on QO at my aunt’s place, how would they get food and groceries?

Frustration built. We received news that Ah Mon was indeed positive for Covid. And accusations started to fly on the group chat. It made me sad and upset because we should have been supporting each other instead of pointing fingers.

That afternoon, we finally received a call from a MOH officer. We were told that my mum and I would need to serve a QO but my dad didn’t as he wasn’t a close contact — he could continue his daily activities as normal.

In that short conversation, which took about two to three minutes, the MOH officer said that a QO agent would contact us to give us more information. We had a host of questions, but the only reply we got was “a QO agent will get in touch with you later”.

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We had to wear a tracker 24/7 throughout our QO. Image source: Tan Kerng Ngee

Being stuck in the same small room with my mum for 14 days? To be honest, I’d rather serve my quarantine at a hotel. I love my mum but we need personal space and I couldn’t help but worry over how we may fall out. There were only two options: Either we stay in the master bedroom or serve our QO at a hotel.

At around 11:40pm, as I was about to fall asleep, my phone suddenly rang. It was the QO agent (a Certis Cisco officer) calling to tell what’s going to happen the next day. In my groggy state, all I remembered was that there will be a medical officer coming to do the ART and PCR tests in the morning. Then another Certis Cisco officer would visit between 10am to 6pm to check if we are suitable to serve the QO at home.

3 Sep: Frustration

We woke up earlier than usual to clean up the house to prep for the medical officer and QO agent.

I was in a bad mood and texted friends to vent. Most blue-ticked me or gave lukewarm responses but there were a few who went out of their way to ask if I would need help. Thanks Elynn!

Around lunch, our doorbell rang, it was a Certis Cisco officer in PPE. While he was setting up, I wondered how my neighbours would react knowing that we are on QO.

I asked if he was the medical officer who would be doing our ART and PCR test, since we were told that we would be taking the test first. “No,” he said, then paused before adding that a medical officer would drop by later.

He told us to download the Homer app, take temperature three times a day and submit my ART test result daily. Lastly, I was given a copy of the QO letter. Then he told us that another agent will come by later to give my mum her own letter.

Why couldn’t our letters be sent at the same time? Isn’t this a waste of time and resources? No answer. I was so frustrated.

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Covid test kits. Image Source: Tan Kerng Ngee

Right after the QO agent left, the doorbell rang again. It was the medical officer. As we did the tests through our door, I could see my neighbour watching us. Even though I know we were not at fault, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of guilt and shame.

Immediately after the medical officer left, I texted my neighbour and reassured her that we would follow MOH’S instructions closely. The last thing I wanted was our 27-year relationship to turn sour just because of a QO!

4 Sep: Things get better

As our family started to accept our situation, we began to set aside our differences and help one another. For example, my grandpa is on a liquid diet and my granny wanted to get him some vitamins. I helped my aunt order groceries online (they aren’t used to buying stuff online) and got it delivered.

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Image Source: Tan Kerng Ngee

I texted the delivery rider to tell him that the delivery is for a flat under quarantine. He was kind enough not to cancel my order after he found out. I’ve known of delivery riders who do that. That small act of positivity really made our day.

9 Sep: Grandpa

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Falling into a routine. Image Source: Tan Kerng Ngee

As we fell into a routine, we grew used to taking our temperature three times a day and submitting our daily ART results.

The fear and worries of the initial days of the QO turned into another new normal. It’s odd how people adapt to new situations. We were bored, cooped up at home. The fights that I worried I’d have with my mum didn’t really happen and we grew accustomed (I wouldn’t say comfortable) with the routine.

We did have little squabbles over minor things but overall, I would think that our relationship actually became better as we became more understanding of one another.

That changed suddenly when we received a phone call from my aunt that my grandpa was unable to speak and seemed to be unresponsive.

We couldn’t leave the house! Left with no choice, we called MOH for help. This time round, the response was immediate. My grandpa was taken to the nearest hospital within an hour.

The next day, we managed to talk to my grandpa via video call. My mum broke down when she saw him in hospital. This is one of the rare instances I ever saw her cry.

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With the help of the nurse, we got to have a video call with my grandpa after he was hospitalized. Image source: Sherlene Kee

He’s stable now and we are receiving updates on his condition through the attending nurse. We won’t be able to see him for another month.

11 Sep: Freedom

My mum and I ended our QO a day earlier than expected as we tested negative for all our daily ARTs as well as the last PCR test.

It was quite a ride for the past two weeks.

Our family ties actually improved in some ways, as going through the ordeal brought us closer. Before the QO, I used to clash with my mum often because of WFH.

During the time together, however, we fought a lot less. I began to see a softer side to her, such as when my grandpa was admitted.

Talking about our concerns for him and seeing him in that condition and yet being unable to do anything gave us the real emotional connection since we started working from home last year.

I read about the Telegram group created by some Singapore residents to support each other and it hit me how much we are going through right now. On the chat, there was a mother who shared how she had to manage her Covid-positive one-month-old infant and her hospitalized mother-in-law at the same time.

Everyone’s QO situation is different. In my case, we had to care for my bedridden grandpa.

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My neighbour texted me on my last day of QO. Image Source: Tan Kerng Ngee

In my family, we found support in each other. Friends helped, as did my neighbours, who offered in small little ways to help our family tide over our QO — from offering to get fresh food to sending words of encouragement.

Everyone’s case is different but we are in this together

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Neighbourhood view after QO (Image source: Tan Kerng Ngee)

The day after my QO ended, I went for a walk. It was the same walk down the same path that I’ve taken for years. But it seemed new. The air seemed fresher. The sunlight seemed warmer.

It was the feeling of freedom.

Looking back a year ago, who would have thought that we would be in a situation where home quarantines were common and home recovery for mild cases of Covid is standard?

To those who are serving QO or have tested positive, my thoughts go out to you. You are not alone, the wait can be painful, especially when you are figuring things out at first.

It will be a long and frustrating ride, with twists and turns along the way, but trust that it will be over eventually.

While we may be frustrated, let’s spare some thoughts to the healthcare frontliners who are working relentlessly around the clock to keep us safe. And to look out for little moments of kindness that will keep us going.

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Top Image: Tan Kerng Ngee