Monday, the 6th of April - Orchard Road, Singapore
It is 3 in the afternoon and Orchard Road is buzzing as if it were the weekend. Not unusual for the number 1 shopping street in Singapore, filled with stores ranging from Dior and Gucci over to H&M and Cotton On. Apart from the handful of people that seem to have ignored the news over the last weeks and eagerly touch every button, clothing hanger and escalator handrail they find before getting a lash out of their eye, everyone walks in zig-zag lines, attempting to keep the obligatory distance of 1 meter. Those that have already finished their shopping spree can be found carrying big bags from multiple stores - they are prepared for what is to come.
Tuesday, the 7th of April - First day of Singapore in Circuit Breaker Mode
I had to google what a circuit breaker is. For those among you that aren't secret electricians either, a circuit breaker is a device that can regulate the amount of electricity that is added to a system. And now, the same is done with people. Businesses that are considered non-essential can only operate on a work-from-home basis or not at all. Those that don't follow the rules are shut down. Interestingly, hairdressers fall under the 'essential' branch, but only for quick, simple haircuts. Schools will follow the trend on the 8th of April. And everything ranging from museums over recreational centres and - to my dismay - swimming pools are likewise closed. Singaporeans' only escape: national public parks. But do make sure to check their crowdedness via the app first. After all, safety comes first.
Local food courts (called Hawker Centres - places that are so intrinsic to the Singaporean identity that Singapore has nominated the 'hawker culture' to UNESCO's List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2019 - a list that also honours the Dutch craft of operating windmills and watermills) also remain open. But this for takeaway only - in fact, you can't even have a sip of your Teh Halia (ginger tea) while waiting for your Roti Prata. And, like in supermarkets, following the arrows and lines on the floors remains essential to ensure successful social distancing.
As you can see, the safety measures that have long turned into the new normal in Europe and the rest of the world have 'finally' reached Singapore too. But why now when the first case was already confirmed on the 23rd of January? Has Singapore responded too slowly and incorrectly?
Not really. On April 7th, the first day of Singapore's Circuit Breaker Mode, there were 1481 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The day before, the sixth person died from the pandemic, a surprisingly low number for a city with more than 5.6 million inhabitants. The slow increase in infection numbers over the first weeks can be attributed to the fact that Singapore was able to contain the virus by issuing code orange, defining 'clusters' and isolating these. A successful strategy until a bit more than four weeks ago when the number of so-called 'imported cases' increased, being people carrying the Coronavirus that got infected abroad and then entered Singapore. By now, both the number of infected persons as well as of identified clusters is rising and the control seems to be slipping out of Singapore's omnipotent hands.
But Singapore is responding. If you find yourself being put into quarantine, you can expect video calls three times a day, spot checks and, in case of non-compliance, electronic tags if not detention and isolation. If you're offending the social distancing rules, don't be surprised by a fine of up to S$10.000 (~6.450€) and/or up to 6 months in jail as a first-time offender. These measures double for all subsequent offences.
Now, it's Wednesday the 8th of April. And we simply have to wait, hoping to survive without retail therapy.
Jesler van Houdt
UCM-student Jesler van Houdt (half Dutch, half German, calls Singapore home) is doing a Double Degree in Freiburg and keeps a blog for Observant. For the next coming weeks she will write about how Covid-19 influences her normally so international lifestyle. The city of Freiburg has decided on a lock-down, both its university and Maastricht University only offer education online for the time being.