“Thank you, Singapore, for once again voting for the PAP! On top of having the honour to serve you once again, I am also proud to announce the end of circuit breaker, alongside the complete eradication of COVID-19 in Singapore!” PM Lee’s victory speech plays through my Airpods as I tune into a news podcast, catching up with the whirlwind of change since the PAP reigned supreme once again.
A shiver runs down the length of my spine as I acclimatise to the chill in the bus. This bus is perplexingly too cold for 10 am in the morning. I reckon it’s because I’m the only passenger on board today. Nevertheless, I am incredibly excited about this journey to work. It’s the first time in a few months since I last stepped foot into my office in Toa Payoh.
“The daily infection rates have officially gone down to zero for three weeks now. I’m happy to announce that there are no more community clusters and imported cases, and migrant workers are no longer testing positive. Singaporeans under mandated medical quarantine have mainly been testing negative and are safe at home. The Expo halls have mostly been cleared and ready to host consumer events while those quarantined in hotels and resorts have gone back,” PM Lee’s baritone voice droned into my ears.
Singapore’s 18th General Election went as planned and without a hitch during the nation’s circuit breaker. Social distancing was observed, with Singaporeans heading to their respective polling stations on their allocated day and time slot.
I did not think my first voting experience would happen under such extraordinary circumstances, yet here we are. They say that you won’t forget your first time and boy was this first memorable.
The government celebrated his achievements by rallying the nation to turn on their phone’s flashlight and singing along to
‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ by Denise Williams
Thanks to the ease of circuit breaker measures on 5th May, Singapore has been recovering slowly but surely. The enforcement of the SafeEntry application proved useful and gave the government the confidence it needed to justify the end of our lockdown. Naturally, issues of privacy were raised, but like every other thing that inconvenienced the ruling party, queries were swiftly left unanswered, POFMAs were issued, and all concerns were swept under the rug.
Immediately after PM Lee’s victory speech, a wave of netizens flooded social media, thanking the government for the swift and decisive measures they took during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat received the loudest virtual applause for the generous monetary support of close to S$90 billion that he provided Singaporeans.
The government celebrated his achievements by rallying the nation to turn on their phone’s flashlight and singing along to ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ by Denise Williams, led by a racially diverse team of homegrown singers on national television. It was, undoubtedly, a roaring success. There were even reports of a handphone being caught on tape falling down 20 storeys in the excitement of the moment.
I look out the bus window wistfully. The ride to the office is a long one. I tap open my Instagram app and realised that gone are the days when influencers used to promote food delivery services or bespoke coffee subscriptions.
Now, every other post that appears on my feed is of influencers promoting face masks. From local to designer brands, I am floored by all the new and innovative designs.
Who knew personal protective equipment could be fashionable?
It is predicted that wearing masks will now be an innate part of the Singapore psyche. A survey carried out by the Singapore Kindness Movement found that people were more friendly and more willing to speak to strangers with the increased anonymity a mask provides.
In another surprising discovery, the nation’s hearing collectively gets sharper with muffled voices now being the new norm, while phone operating systems have been duly upgraded to allow users to unlock their phones while wearing a mask.
I reach my office at half-past ten and greet the receptionist. She still takes my temperature out of habit although it’s a practice that is gradually being phased out. As my colleagues slowly fill the office, they, in turn, ask where my mask is.
“Aren’t you worried about the residual virus in the air?” my Editor probes. “We didn’t sanitise the office before we left, you know?” I tell him that I’ll buy a mask during my lunch break just to appease him.
At lunchtime, my fellow interns and I walk to Toa Payoh Hub under the searing heat of the afternoon. I observe my surroundings—the crowd is still thin, and stalls in coffee shops have groups of delivery people crowding them.
We walk into our favourite dining spot and see the remnants of social distancing measures—patrons instinctively queuing a meter apart, adhering to the vestiges of yellow strips that were once pasted on the ground. However, the ubiquitous red X’s are still glued on every other seat.
“So do we sit separately, or…” I trailed off.
“I think it’s best we just take away and head back to the office,” Dawn replies.
We quickly buy our food and head back to the office. Social distancing signs are put up on the walls of the office pantry. Ignoring those signs, we sit in a group nonetheless.
“Feels weird to be sitting so close to one another,” I comment.
“Right? Can’t believe COVID’s finally over,” my colleague added.
“Are you sure we’re allowed to sit like this though? Didn’t the government form some social distancing committee to ensure that workplaces enforce social distancing?” Bethany asks.
“Yeah, but I mean if the red X’s are removed here, I assume that means we can sit together,” I reply.
I notice that Sarah’s missing and ask for her whereabouts.
“Her family decided to go to JB the second the checkpoints were opened,” Dawn shared.
Travel restrictions are still in place with stricter entry restrictions from countries that have growing COVID numbers. Leisure travel is still disallowed with harsher penalties enforced should people go against those restrictions.
Traffic jams at our Malaysian borders have been ridiculous since both nations reopened their borders—many Singaporeans are simply itching for a cheap getaway. They would happily wait ten hours in a car just to go on a quick holiday. I suppose in some ways, some things never changed, pandemic or not.
Over lunch, we talk about how society is supposed to return to ‘normalcy’. As if Thanos snapped his fingers, palm wearing the infinity stone glove, and suddenly COVID-19 is now officially a thing of the past.
We commiserate about how miserable we felt while forced to stay indoors, and the way foreign news depicted how Singapore dealt with COVID-19. Specifically in the way Singapore handled the treatment of migrant workers during the pandemic.
The barrage of negative press we received from the international media was unprecedented. Criticisms of the way the government failed to contain the virus spread amongst the migrant worker community motivated the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to establish a new community-led arm.
The Migrant Workers Welfare Committee (MWWC)—chaired by foreign worker welfare groups, such as HOME, TWC2, and It’s Raining Raincoats—now oversees all things pertaining to the welfare of migrant workers, in response to the poor living conditions these labourers were living in once before.
MOM has now entrusted the MWWC to ensure that foreign migrant dormitories and living quarters are of an acceptable standard. They also have the authority to fine or suspend dormitory licences should they fail to uphold these standards. In addition to MWWC, the Foreign Workers Union (FWU) is enacted to work closely with MWWC to voice out any concerns should migrant workers feel marginalised.
As a result, the migrant worker way of life is now completely transparent to the average Singaporean. Gone are the days where we privately raise funds or awareness for our everyday heroes; they now have the FWU to represent them.
What’s even more interesting about the state of migrant workers is the educational aspect of it all. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has developed a new syllabus for Social Studies, which addresses the correct behaviour towards migrant workers in response to the xenophobia Singaporeans exhibited during COVID-19.
On top of that, secondary school students, as part of their VIA requirements, are now mandated to volunteer at least once a year during their stay in secondary school at a migrant worker dormitory.
Still, nothing is said about bridging the gap between students who can and cannot afford laptops
A fellow Hype & Stuff intern, Natalie, mentions that her sister, a doctor, has received a sizeable bonus for her service during COVID. “Nurses are being compensated, as well. I think they’re introducing a new bill to make sure that our medical front liners are fairly compensated should a pandemic hit again,” she shared.
‘Probably another PAP campaign promise,’ I think to myself.
“I mean, these are the people who were actively exposed to COVID for prolonged periods of time, I honestly wouldn’t mind if the government took money out of my CPF to pay them,” I say out loud.
We return to work after our extended lunch break, and as we approach our cubicles, our boss surprises us with an unlikely afternoon meeting.
“So,” he starts, “even though circuit breaker is over, MOM has a new directive that highly suggests that companies that can work from home, should do so for the rest of 2020. Unless anyone has a good reason to violently object, we’re going to adhere to that mandate for the rest of the year. We’re back to team A and team B, everyone.”
I groan internally, I don’t have a reason to violently object per se, but I’ll have to remember to seek his permission to come into the office as much as I can. Just the mere thought of being home with my family for another six months as I attempt to work, send shivers down my spine.
Later on, I learned from my boss that MOM is offering businesses financial incentives for adhering to the state’s working arrangement suggestions.
The workday comes to a close as 7 pm rolls around and I make my way to the train station. I wait for an exceptionally long time for the train to arrive. Every few minutes, an announcement is made to remind commuters that trains are still running according to the CB schedule and will need a few more days to readjust back to ‘normal’.
I find no issue in waiting and sitting patiently for my ride to arrive. As I wait, I decide to keep up with things that are slowly being returned to ‘normal’.
On Facebook, MOE reflects on their time with Home-Based Learning (HBL) and has decided to continue with two days of HBL a week until 2020 ends. The post also mentions committing to more E-Learning days come 2021, with plans underway for parents to sit through E-Learning orientation alongside their children.
As expected, the general sentiment of the comments all leans towards ‘I already studied, but now I must study again for my child.’ Nothing is truly good enough for Singaporean parents.
Still, nothing is said about bridging the gap between students who can and cannot afford laptops.
I laugh internally and smile to myself, reminiscing on the MOE Facebook comments articles I wrote at the height of Circuit Breaker. I continue to surf the net for news and read that despite it being 100% safe now, the government is not taking any chances and is staggering the openings of entertainment venues such as cinemas and entertainment joints. Even if they are allowed to operate, social distancing measures must still be enforced—at least till the end of 2020.
‘Sounds reasonable. I wonder if it’ll make financial sense for cinemas to open if they cannot house as many patrons as they could before. I do miss The Projector.’ I think to myself.
The same social distancing rules are applied to gyms and public spaces, with no more than 30 people allowed to gather at one time, another article read.
Elsewhere, a news report talks about how President Halimah made headlines with her Facebook post on buying Hari Raya cookies from home-based businesses (HBB), which led to the formation of the KUEH initiative.
The Kakak-Kakak United in Entrepreneurship at Home (KUEH) aims to provide further monetary support, business courses, financial forecasting, and skills upgrading for free should HBB owners want to grow their business.
‘Bubble Tea Business Courses Will Be Made Available in Polytechnics In 2021’. I click on the article and find out that after the shut down of non-essential services during COVID-19, a national survey found that Bubble Tea is considered essential in our nation.
In response, a ‘Boba and Its Impact on a Global Business World’ course will be made available to teach students on how to deal with extraordinary economic circumstances should another pandemic hit. Not only will they be taught how to set-up shop and franchises, but they will also learn to work with food partners, should stand-alone bubble tea shops be forced to close again.
The course will, of course, be led by the now famous Ministry of Trade and Industry.
The KUEH aims to provide further monetary support, business courses, financial forecasting, and skills upgrading for free should HBB owners want to grow their business
I wonder how long we’ll take to return to life before COVID-19 fully. Perhaps, we might need the rest of 2020 to readjust to the live the life we once considered normal—whatever normal entails.
I get off the MRT and board the bus home. The final leg home’s a short one—just a 3 bus-stop ride. My condo comes into view as I hear police sirens wail past me. My eyes widen in surprise. I walk into my estate to the sight of several police cars in the visitor car park, their flashing red and blue lights harsh against the ember of dusk.
Walking up the stairs, I’m confronted with lengths of luminescent police tape wrapped around my block—these are not the normal blue and white ones with the word ‘POLICE’ in block letters.
An ambulance is parked in front of the lift bay with six people in full hazmat suits milling around as if waiting to leap into action. A police officer tells me that there’s nothing to see and that I should leave the premises.
“But I live here,” I protest. His face gives nothing away except a furrowed brow, his eyes darting about nervously. He reluctantly hands over a face shield, stepping aside for me to pass through.
“You can go in, but be careful not to touch anything, okay?”
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