SINGAPORE: In the wee hours of last Friday (Jul 10) night, while staying up to watch the results of Singapore’s 2020 General Election, I suddenly felt a range of conflicting emotions coursing through me as I watched footage of Workers Party supporters celebrating in Hougang.
First, I cheered on the joy in their expressions as supporters waved flags and inflatable hammers in the air. After all, watching happy people is infectious (in a good way). I almost wanted to make my way over so I could soak in the festivities in person.
Then, a horrified thought popped into my head: Where is the safe distancing?
Each time I spotted someone without a mask or people making fist bumps and giving high fives, I cringed a little inside as I thought of how they were surely exchanging all sorts of germs with each other. All thoughts of going out were immediately abandoned.
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON?
That weekend, just like almost every weekend since Singapore moved into DORSON Orange, I stayed in as much as possible.
I am aware we are currently in phase 2 of the post-circuit breaker period where there are fewer restrictions on being out and some social activity is allowed but a part of me is not quite ready yet.
For many, the relaxation of rules is a welcome relief. More people can now resume work. After months of having to stay within the small confines of their homes, many are probably glad for the opportunity to spend time elsewhere.
I can identify with that restless feeling of being cooped up. A few weeks ago, for a change in scenery, my partner and I decided to spend Friday evening in the Duxton neighborhood.
As our Grab car passed through Tanjong Pagar, however, my eyes widened as I noticed many queuing in close proximity to each other outside various restaurants.
Elsewhere in the district, restaurant patrons would congregate on the street to smoke and chat. I was relieved we had made a reservation at a small eatery so we could avoid these hordes but even more relieved when we finally returned home.
My experience is probably not an isolated one. One can easily find images and videos of crowded spots around the country, such as malls and popular F&B districts on social media. One cannot help but wonder, where are the safe distancing ambassadors?
Worryingly, infection numbers are slowly creeping up. For the past two weeks, Singapore has averaged about 13 to 14 community cases each day. The number of unlinked cases seem to be on a small uptick.
The list of places visited by COVID-19 cases during their infectious period is also broadening in scope. Initially, most locations were essential businesses like supermarkets or wet markets.
Now, the list includes popular malls like Marina Bay Sands, Bugis Junction, Sim Lim Square as well as F&B outlets such as The Daily Scoop and The Guild. While it is not necessary to avoid places where confirmed cases have been, experts say these indicate the presence of “hidden reservoirs” of the virus still circulating in the community.
KEEPING CABIN FEVER IN CHECK
For now, I have made the choice to minimise my time spent outside home for the sake of my health and mental wellbeing. In many ways, staying in has been a pleasure.
In the BC (before COVID-19) days, my days were packed with work events, yoga classes and dinners. It was a relief to cut some commitments, especially unnecessarily long meetings, outings with people I’m not too keen on and boring networking events, where I would have to subject myself to awkward small talk, which I am terrible at.
I have used this newfound free time to do things I had long been putting off - repaying my sleep debt, decluttering my overstuffed wardrobe, reading unread books and cooking creative meals to clear out my pantry.
READ: Commentary: I miss my regular bar – but I accept I might never get to return, even after circuit breakers are lifted
Interestingly, I have not felt disconnected from human interaction. Instagram Stories has become my diary to record musings, observations and fears about life under the shadow of a pandemic and it has brought me immense comfort when friends and acquaintances respond with kind words and helpful recommendations.
My Whatsapp group and individual chats have evolved into spaces for thoughtful and measured conversations that are much more engaging than the mass forwarding of memes. In a way, it almost feels like the old school practice of letter writing has been revived via technology and I have grown closer to some friends because of this.
And once, when cabin fever got too much to bear, I took a day off work to hike the Southern Ridges on a weekday when fewer people are out and about.
Of course, there are things I miss about the good old days. Life is duller without the visceral pleasure of live arts performances such as concerts and theatre shows. For now, I have tried my best to stay engaged by checking out virtual performances.
A Zoom bingo session conducted by local theatre company Andsoforth provided a lighthearted fun, while the supernatural murder mystery by Sight Lines Entertainment spooked me out.
MAKING A COMPROMISE
Still even for someone with introverted tendencies, I recognise I cannot keep myself confined forever.
Neither can any country, Singapore included, be on circuit breakers indefinitely, even if we may have to get used to a cycle of tightening and loosening restrictions to keep potential outbreaks under control.
So, I am taking baby steps. Like celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who declared she would be adopting a social 5:2 diet of going out only two days a week, I am gradually adding appointments to my calendar.
On occasion, I schedule small group meals at carefully chosen establishments where we are assured of fewer crowds, such as under-the-radar or less popular restaurants. And I have no qualms making a last-minute change of plans if a place I intend to visit seems too packed.
Hopefully more people pay greater attention to the recommended preventive measures so as to curb transmission rates. While it is now compulsory to wear masks outside the home, I still see individuals with their noses sticking out or their masks under their chins on any given corner.
It would also help if more people exercised common sense restraint such as by not lingering in jam packed places or choosing alternative, less crowded locales.
We all want life to go on. Chances are, this will only be possible when everybody cooperates in helping to keep the virus at bay.
Karen Tee is a freelance writer.