Why do we, as a nation, fail at social distancing? So much so that the government has to not only impose strict circuit breaker measures but also close down public spaces, paste stickers on public transport, and even have social distancing ambassadors at the ready to advise customers to please queue one metre apart.
Perhaps there is a reason why the government has to up the ante—we went from warning letters to on the spot fines, and even jail terms in seemingly a blink of the eye. From being allowed to exercise in open spaces, to complete closures of stadiums and parks.
Are the low number of local cases a result of these measures? And can we trust ourselves to keep local transmission numbers low if the government were to ease up on the strict circuit breaker measures?
This piece is not here to rile you up or to point fingers but to analyse and reflect on the ever uniquely Singaporean state of mind and why we do things the way we do. What I do know, is that I hope to encourage those reading this to take a step back and understand that perhaps you might unconsciously be part of the problem and would like to reflect on your actions too.
Here are six reasons why we, Singaporeans, fail at social distancing and what time means for someone like me who is currently suffering from cabin fever at home.
Indeed, whether you identify as an introvert or ambivert, humans are innately social creatures by nature. Scientifically, physical and social interaction encourages the body and brain to release happy chemicals such as serotonin and oxytocin. The release of these chemicals are necessary for survival.
However, this is where the evolved human mind comes in. Yes, it is tough to fight or satiate one’s innate need for social interaction, but this why we are blessed with rational and logical thoughts. These abilities enable us to exert discipline and control over our actions, to aid us in making the socially responsible decision of staying home.
In a perfect world, we would have an adjustment period to get used to social distancing measures, allowing us to mentally prepare ourselves for the lack of physical socialising to come. But this is not a perfect world and the transmission of COVID-19 waits for no one.
Whether you’re used to social distancing or not, it is necessary. With the rising cases of unlinked COVID-19 positive patients in Singapore, to excuse unfamiliarity does not cut it anymore. Yes, perhaps we did not know the severity of the novel coronavirus when the pandemic first hit, but that’s not a reason to stay oblivious and pretend that everything’s okay.
It is our social responsibility to educate ourselves and stay up to date with the latest developments of this virus. I get it, change requires some time to get used to, but with the pandemic, we do not have the luxury of an adjustment period. Remember when Singaporean parents collectively lost their marbles when Parliament announced the revamp of the PSLE scoring system and the removal of T-scores?
Alright to be fair, they did announce that in 2016 and the removal will only take effect in 2021. And yes comparing, this to the current pandemic attitudes are akin to comparing apples to oranges, but, what I’m saying is if Singaporeans can adapt to the monumental change of the PSLE scoring system amidst protest, we definitely can adapt to something arguably more serious and potentially life-saving.
It is true that Singaporeans, for some reason, only take things seriously when we’ve reached a dire state of things. If we weren’t in a pandemic, I would be proud of the fact that my fellow country folks are so good at exploiting grey areas.
But exploiting the grey before DORSCON CB, led the government to impose the strict circuit breaker measures. Why is it that we need fines and authoritarian supervision for us to finally follow instructions?
The circuit breaker measures were introduced on 3 April 2020 and were enforced on 7 April 2020. In a mere four day span, we witnessed panic buying and people going out for the ‘last time’.
And that’s not even the worst part when it comes to exploiting grey areas. What enraged me were the farewell parties that entertainment venues held before closures on 26 April 2020.
Just like children, when told to do something, Singaporeans time and time again have chosen to do the exact opposite.
It’s not DORSCON Red per se, but you will get fined if you’re found loitering by officers from The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR). Sure, we are not on lockdown, but you will get fined S$300 immediately if you’re found breaking any circuit measure laws. And yes, we do not have a Movement Control Order like our neighbour, Malaysia, but you will be fined if you’re found not to wear a mask after you’ve left your place of residence.
One of the reasons why we fail at social distancing is because we are not told things explicitly. Or rather, we only abide to explicit instructions.
The government has not declared a total lockdown. Still, it has essentially mandated measures to ensure that we stay socially responsible and stay home. And we all know that we as a people are most motivated when money’s involved. Deep-rooted in our psyches are our kiasi and kiasu attitudes. The easier solution is to wear a mask because we fear getting fined S$300 more than the virus.
Perhaps we as a nation are complacent and are not as proactive at adhering to social distancing measures because our government has been assuring us that everything is and will be ‘okay’ when it is everything but.
From all-new highs of daily reported cases to our ministers sitting farther away from each other every time they have a multi-ministry press conference, things are going to get worse before they get better. And because our government does not believe in scare techniques to control us as a nation, time and time again the government has said that we would not change our DORSCON level to red when, technically, we’ve been living in the red since the circuit breaker measures.
Are we going to be stubborn about social distancing because of a formality?
Before we went into DORSCON CB, I used to joke that should I test positive, I would bask in being positive and write an article about it. But now, after interviewing a friend who is still testing positive for COVID-19, my thoughts have changed.
If I test positive, that’s fine. But what’s not okay is the chance of transmitting the virus to my siblings or my elderly parents. So just because I have a death wish, does not mean that they should suffer for my actions.
Above that, it’s not just family that I fear transmission, what if I’m out and about and encounter someone who’s immunocompromised? They too did not ask for the virus, so as much as I have a will to die, that does not give me reason to take down others with me.
And neither should you. Whether you’re in denial or just simply oblivious, COVID-19 is no joke and will have serious lasting impacts on our society, our healthcare response, and the world.
Is it harsh of me to expect that we as a nation are smarter than this? Or should I be thankful that at least we fear fines enough to adhere to the rules?
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