Friday the 10th of April, 7 am, Singapore. A small group of three headed over to the bus station, wearing face masks and desperately trying not to touch their faces that nowadays seem to start itching as soon as you set foot outside. Fifteen minutes later, the same group arrived in a part of town that they only rarely visit, a part where they stood out more than they would like on this secret mission.
At 7:40 am, the three entered a doctor's office via the back entrance. What they were about to do is considered unessential by the Singaporean government and thus isn't allowed during opening hours. But the doctor thought that, for them, it was essential nonetheless and deliberately came to work half an hour early before officially opening his practice, time during which he could have slept. But to him, this sacrifice was worth it. After all, they were going back to Europe in a week. Europe.
Not five minutes later, we stood outside again, each of us holding the place where we received our flu and pneumonia shots. The logic: the COVID-19 virus is almost always accompanied by the flu and pneumonia. Having to battle both at the same time takes a toll on our bodies. Flu and pneumonia shots are by no means a vaccine against Corona (otherwise they would be considered 'essential', I suppose). But they're better than nothing. And, according to our doc, when going back to Europe, you should take everything you can get.
The countdown to returning to Germany has started. It feels strange to pack my suitcase again. Over the five weeks that I have been in Singapore, not only did the situation get worse in the Netherlands and Germany, it also started spiraling out of control over here in Singapore. What first seemed like the safest place to be during the pandemic, with opened stores and just minimal social distancing measures, has too turned into an apocalyptic version of the once so vibrant city.
Recommendations not to wear face masks because it might increase the risk of getting infected turned into the obligation to wear them wherever you go if you don't want to be confronted with the first-offender's fine of 300 Singapore Dollars. I've watched the 'face' of Corona in Singapore - the stigmatized representation of what a person 'likely' carrying the COVID-19 virus looks like - switch from the initial Chinese, over European/Western (about which I wrote a blog more than a month ago) to Indian. Why Indian? Because many clusters - areas where the number of Corona patients and thus the risk of infection is disproportionally high - are dorms of 'domestic workers', mainly centered around the neighborhood Little India.
The countdown to Germany is also the countdown to a two-week quarantine that came into effect a week ago. It's the countdown to starting the next semester through Zoom and other online channels. The countdown to trying to get in summer shape using YouTube videos. To wondering what 'summer shape' even means in times like these. But, mainly, a countdown to hoping that things will get better soon, for everyone's sake.
Jesler van Houdt