Two Sundays ago, on March 22, I walked into Cedele and noticed a red cross marked on one of the seats. Looking around, I noticed half the chairs – and tables – in the restaurant were marked in a similar fashion.
Eager to order my food at the counter, I was politely told by staff to step back and wait behind the line for my turn. Only then did I realise there were newly drawn lines one metre apart on the ground, a safe distancing measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Five days later (March 27), gatherings of more than 10 outside work and school were banned. Entertainment venues like cinemas and bars closed. Religious services suspended.
And yesterday (April 3), PM Lee Hsien Loong announced that most workplaces – except for key economic sectors and essential services – will be closed. All schools and pre-schools will also be closed, as Singapore puts in place a “circuit breaker” to pre-empt escalating infections.
Despite these disruptions, life has not been put on hold. Work continues.
My workplace, like many others, has implemented split team work-from-home arrangements. Teams are not allowed to mingle. All our meetings are now held on screens.
Safe distancing has become the new normal.
While cities like New York, Bangkok and New Delhi have issued lockdowns, Singapore has not. Thankfully, for the majority of us, these precautionary measures are small inconveniences (not being able to have social gatherings) or moderate disruptions at most (for those serving compulsory Stay Home Notices).
Still, in the days and weeks to come, we will need to adjust to these unusual circumstances until Covid-19 blows over, hopefully sooner than later (though I am an introvert, I do miss having a face to face conversation with a friend).
However, safe distancing doesn’t mean we become anti-social. And neither should it prevent us from reaching out to lend a helping hand, not literally at least.
In these uncertain times, we need all the more to show care for one another. While we may not be able to meet physically, we can send family and friends a text (and virtual hug!) to find out how they are coping with the changes.
For neighbours who are unable to leave their houses, we can offer to buy them food and daily necessities.
We need to look out for vulnerable members of our community such as the elderly and people with disabilities and show them extra kindness during this time when help may be further away.
Communities around the world have banded together in their own creative ways to fight the social isolation that stems from Covid-19, from Italians singing in unison from their balconies, to a postcard campaign in the UK to help those in isolation buy supplies, or simply, offer a friendly phone call.
This is true too, for Singapore.
On 30 Mar at 8pm, Singaporeans islandwide stood at their windows and balconies and clapped and cheered – even banging saucepans together – to show their appreciation for the people on the frontline of the fight against Covid-19. The ovation was part of Clap For #SGUnited, started by British expatriate Martin Verga, who was inspired by the #ClapForOurCarers movement that has gone global.
And in Rasa Sentosa, one of the hotels where Singaporeans who just returned from overseas and serving Stay Home Notices are housed, one returnee played ‘Home’ on the violin, a heartwarming gesture to netizens who responded with an outpouring of love and support.
Members of the public have also shared on social media their own personal stories of kindness in ordinary daily encounters.
In a Facebook post, netizen Eliza Foo saw a Singaporean couple helping an uncle with speaking difficulties order a meal at Old Chang Kee after seeing him struggle to place the order. According to Mothership, the couple also footed the bill for the uncle.
Another netizen, GrabFood delivery rider Syed Shafiq, shared in a Facebook post that a customer had ordered ten cups of bubble tea, not to send to the customer’s address, but to distribute to riders around Rivervale Mall to thank them for their hard work.
Small acts of kindness like these can be incredibly powerful.
Research has shown that when we witness an act of kindness, we go through what famous psychologist Maslow called a “peak experience.” Psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes these experiences as “a sensation of expansion in your heart, a greater desire to help, and an increased sense of connection to others.”
“Witnessing an authentic act of kindness transmits a feeling of peace and happiness that lasts. Some of these actions, though they are apparently insignificant, can stay in our memories and end up being inspiring during difficult times.”
In the current climate of fear – where MRT commuters stare warily or scurry away at the sound of a cough or sneeze, or where there is the constant suspicion that someone we interact with could be a potential carrier – I am reminded that there are people who choose kindness, who choose to be greater.
And this is enough for me to believe that we will get through, like we have before.
If there is anything that Sars taught us, it is that if we were to overcome Covid-19, we have to be united as a nation.
The real challenge for us then is, can we stay united, apart?
For those who want to help, SGUnited has created a portal that pools various community-led initiatives – volunteer and donation opportunities from both charities and the public – in one place.
The Courage Fund, set up in 2003 during the Sars outbreak and administered by Community Chest, is also seeking donations to provide relief and support to those who are affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
As Mother Teresa once said, we cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
Safe distancing may limit the spread of Covid-19, but it will not provide a cure. It is how we respond – whether in fear or kindness – that will determine whether we have the resilience and solidarity as a people to stand united against this invisible threat.
I choose kindness, what about you?