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COVID-19: 20 Coronavirus Buzzwords All S’poreans Should Know

About two months ago, I was catching up with youth lingos my young colleagues were teaching me. I was one of the older interns who pronounced ‘meme’ as me-me, much to my younger comrade’s delight.

Two months later, just as I was about to catch up with them, I realised there was another set of buzzwords I needed to pick up. These ever-changing trending words revolve around the battle between the pesky COVID-19 and our nation’s ugly (yet ubiquitous) nature of being characteristically kiasu (fear of missing out).

Some terms are very educational, while some are parodies morphed from its scientific origin. However, regardless of its forms, they remain uniquely Singapore and serves as a good signpost of this disaster that has befallen our country.

1. Coronavirus

How can we forget its notorious name, which has turned our world upside down? Coronavirus, COVID-19 original name, is derived from the Latin word, which means crown. Scientists termed this strand from its bright crown-like appearance under the microscope.

2. Wuhan

Before COVID-19, some of us might not have even heard of the city  “Wuhan“. There are many conspiracy allegations on its origins—a long-drawn blame game for another day. Regardless, it is undebatable that the disease was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei province in China, sometime in December 2019, with some camps alleging that it was discovered months before. 

After this COVID-19 global shakedown, I am sure we all acknowledge and associate the existence of Wuhan as a place and yes, that awful pandemic.

3. Panic buying

According to Wikipedia, panic buying is described as “when consumers buy unusually large amounts of a product in anticipation of a disaster or perceived disaster, or a forecast of a substantial price hike or shortage—it is a type of herd behaviour”. 

That was what Singaporeans witnessed on the fateful evenings of 7 February 2020, when the Dorscon turned orange. For the first time in history, supermarket shelves were wiped clean, and toilet paper emerged as the top prized possession. During the subsequent nation address on 3 April 2020, the favourable wind of panic buying shifted to IKEA.

4. Stay-Home Notice (SHN) and Work From Home (WFH)

As the name implies, SHN implies staying in your place of residence at all times during a period of 14-day. It might sound like a harmless advisory, but it is under the purview of the Infectious Diseases Act, which means that any non-compliance is an offence and monetary fines and imprisonment will be imposed. 

Work From Home! The boon of most employees and the bane of all employers. Work from home occurred in pre-COVID days to enhance flexibility for employment contracts, but COVID-19 made it almost mandatory. As serious as SHN, severe penalties await all employers who flout the rules of telecommuting. 

5. Social Distancing

Social distancing is a measure implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. By maintaining physical distance, avoiding large group gatherings, and reducing contact with people, it reduces the rate of disease transmission and hence, helps to curb the outbreak.

6. X

Following the social distancing measure, public places implemented the “one-metre” apart rule and ‘X’ on fixtures. Demarcations can be seen in elevators, queuing up areas, and tables and chairs of F&B outlets to prevent close clustering of people. 

To further support social distancing, for a brief period of time, the Singapore government has issued a health advisory to keep gatherings to less than 10 people. Hence putting a quantifiable quota to group gatherings to reduce the spread of the virus. 

Interestingly, the one-metre practice has “lengthen” the queue lengths at our favourite hoarding spots—supermarkets and now, IKEA!


We view DORSCON like a colour palette—we would be half right. DORSCON is a colour-coded framework to indicate the current disease situation, and is an abbreviation for “Disease Outbreak Response System Condition”. There are four colours in all: green being the mildest and red being the most critical. 

Officially, Singapore is currently at DORSCON Orange. However, with the current leap in the daily number of affected people over a sustained period, informal forum platforms have humorously suggested that there is a spectrum of orange and that the nation is at “rusty orange” (almost red). 

More recently, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s nation address on “Circuit Breaker”, creative netizens have added a column of ‘DORSCON Pink‘ between orange and red.

8. Circuit Breaker

Borrowed from our physics textbook (a subject I did terribly in), “circuit breaker” is now a national term used to describe the period from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020, where an elevated set of safe distancing measures are implemented. With the same aim to combat COVID-19, only essential services are exempted from the circuit breaker.

A new phenomenon emerged from the Circuit Breaker announcement. Panic buying extends from the supermarket to IKEA. Oh yes, who doesn’t want to look presentable and show off their swanky work stations during those Zoom meeting calls.

9. #SGUnited

#SGUnited is the social arm of the Singapore Government, which drives community action to help Singapore overcome COVID-19. It serves to connect the community by keeping everyone abreast and at the same time, support anyone who needs counselling.

Saying #SGUnited now is akin to a K-pop fan saying “Hwaiting” (which means fighting)—a motivational slang often used as a war cry before an endeavour.

10. Zoom

A platform for video conferencing, Zoom is a timely life saviour to all employers, in light of the current COVID-19 situation. It is free to sign up, provides unlimited 1-to-1 meetings, can host up to 100 participants in the meeting call, and is equipped with many useful meeting functions such as screen sharing and active speaker view. 

Though it’s been plagued with many privacy concerns, many Singaporeans seem to have jumped on board the Zoom train as we’re wont to do with anything new and shiny. Not many know the organisation and origin behind Zoom, but it does offer a seamless experience of having many people in one chat room at the same time. I guess this is a case of convenience over security?

11. Lockdown

A lockdown is an emergency protocol that prevents people from leaving the area. To date, approximately 20 countries have initiated a nation lockdown. Some countries like France have resorted to a full lockdown, which means people are barred from leaving their homes unless under essential circumstances. 

In Singapore, the government tries as much as possible to avoid referring to the current advisory of staying home as a lockdown for fear of the panic it might cause. But it might as well be with all sports facilities shuttered, everyone mandated to work from home, non-essential services closed, and social distancing ambassadors out in full force to ensure citizens are abiding by the full extent of this partial lockdown.

12. Budget 2020: Unity, Resilience, and Solidarity

With industries being hit hard by this economic standstill, the Singapore Government has stepped in and announced three rounds of financial support measures to help Singaporean households and businesses to tide through COVID-19. Budget 2020 is without equal not only for its generosity but for its quick reaction to the situation at hand. 

Financial aids and reliefs have been rendered and allocated to individuals, businesses, the self-employed, and citizens from the lower income strata of the country. No one is left behind. Except perhaps migrant workers living in deplorable conditions.

13. Unprecedented Extraordinary times

We hear this term many times during our ministers’ address. The budget is unprecedented and Singapore is going through an extraordinary time. All this serves to highlight that the pandemic has made the circumstances so different and also, in some ways managing the citizen’s expectations for the following years ahead. 

We’ve closed schools, issued stop-work orders, and meted out fines to people who don’t practice social distancing. If these aren’t signs of an unprecedented extraordinary time, then what is?

14. Quarantine Order

A Quarantine Order is a legal order issued under the Infectious Disease Act to individuals. So, any non-compliance will lead to severe penalties. It is usually issued to individuals who are deemed as high-risk carriers who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients. 

Quarantine can occur in their homes, Government Quarantine Facilities or hospitals. Some Government Quarantine Facilities include luxury hotels—which would otherwise cost hundreds of dollars a night. This is Quarantine Singapore-Style where a Queen-sized bed, plush pillows, exquisite toiletries, room service, and an expansive sea view is the norm. Of course, you can’t leave your room at all for 14 days, so I guess, you lose some, you win some.

15. Self-isolation

Self-isolation is a self-imposed precautionary measure where an individual chooses to stay home alone. If the individual lives in a household, the individual should stay away from other household members with a safety distance.

16. Telecommuting

Telecommuting is a more formal term, which holds the same meaning as WFH. It means a flexible workplace so that employees do not need to travel to and fro from work. Telecommuting is also a measure in place to reduce commuters on public transport which is a potential cluster for cross-contamination.

17. Flattening the curve

Flattening the curve means slowing the rate of infection. With the spike of global infections each day, hospitals overseas are finding the crunch in resources to meet the hike in demand for medical resources. With the precautionary measures like social distancing in place, government officials hope for the pandemic curve to be flattened.

18. LHL’s tea cup

Our national leader can converse three languages fluently and switch among them swiftlessly and seamlessly Between sips of his oriental tea cup. Question is: What is in the tea cup?

19. Incubation period

My only memory of the term ‘incubation period’ was from science class where it takes 21 days for an egg to hatch into a chick. Another borrowed term, incubation period—during the time and age of COVID-19—is described as the time between catching the virus and the signs of showing the symptoms of the disease. 

The incubation period of COVID-19 ranges from 1 to 14 days. Hence, it fulfills the purpose of the 14-day period stay home, isolation, and quarantine so that individuals are earmarked as COVID-free before they can resume their usual social life. This has not always proven to be successful though, as we’ve seen from the case of the man who was infected after faithfully fulfilling his stay home notice.

20. Contact Tracing

This must be the bane of all ministry officers. Contact tracing is a process to identify individuals who may be exposed to others who are confirmed to have the virus. It is an elaborate operation that involves a multi-agency team using activity mapping and analytic tools.

Subsequently, an application called TraceTogether was launched to make contact tracing more efficient. This is on top of the physical contact tracing via the numerous iPads which we have had to key our personal details in as someone surreptitiously takes our temperature at the forehead before handing over a sticker. Yes, it can be a tad inconvenient, but if anything, it works and no one can argue otherwise.

Stay safe everyone.

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