Published on 22nd March, 2020
As the world goes into a lockdown, and my own country India, implements a #JantaCurfew for a day, amidst instructions of a lockdown till 31st of March, I visited my local supermarket ShengSiong, to buy my weekly groceries. It is pretty much business as usual. While in most countries of the world, markets, stores and public transport are getting closed, Singapore has kept most of its stores and even restaurants, open. There is no shortage of any items, including toiler paper rolls and sanitisers. But it was not always like this!
Singapore was among the first few countries outside of China, that saw people diagnosed positively with the CoronaVirus, in the beginning of February. China’s infected count had started to grow exponentially by then, and Singapore was almost competing with Japan and Hong Kong for the unenviable number two spot. All the three are probably the most well connected to China, as far as airline routes are concerned.
Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Alert DORSCON to Orange on 7th February, thereby accepting that the outbreak was severe, and would disrupt normal life to some extent, and would need the public to follow a certain discipline and compliance.
That generated some panic, as over zealous, selfish people rushed to the stores to stock up masks, toilet paper and sanitisers. Within a day, most stores had run out of supply for a number of important items, including some food items.
The Government stepped in, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sending out a video message which was both informative and calming. Some other ministers also visited the stores and helped convey the same message. Sane people also played a role and spread the word around, and within 48 hours, the stores were back to their usual stock levels.
The Government strictly enforced measures, started contact tracing of the infected, initiated temperature screening in most public establishments and private enterprises followed suit, put travel bans on affected areas and even shut down a few schools. It did draw some flak from its detractors. Unlike what most people are made to believe, Singapore Government does face criticism on various issues, many of them unjustified perhaps. Yes, it’s not possible to have a protest at the level of the #ShaheenBagh protests, but that is also because the Government acts responsibly, and would never take steps like those, that can lead to a similar magnitude of protest.
Today, Singapore is the 40th on the list of infected, and yesterday they had reported the first two cases of death, since the outbreak started two months back. Almost everything, from public transport to Supermarkets, from restaurants to massage parlours, and from schools and offices to brothels, are kept open, despite lower footfalls. Most people act responsibly, by choosing to go or not go, by carefully evaluating the need, necessity and the consequences thereafter.
There are still people who act irresponsibly at times, but they are massively outnumbered by level headed people in the population, and their impact has been restricted to a minimum. People in general, have been acting sensibly and responsibly from the beginning, even when the whole world was mocking the Chinese, forwarding memes on social media, or were beaming with the confidence that these things only happen to ‘them’ not to ‘us’!
A pandemic can be uncertain, and things will remain very dynamic for the next few weeks. But even if it goes downhill from here, the effort and the achievement of Singapore, in containing the spread of this virus and keeping its people safe, should not be lost on us. A major credit goes to the Government, for handling things to a near perfect level. But that has been possible only because the people have done their part and acted sensibly and with responsibility towards the larger society.
As the world goes into an unpredictably destructive phase, remember, your Government might not be as effective as that of Singapore, but if you are not as responsible as the people of Singapore, you have only yourself to blame.
May we all survive this pandemic with minimum damage, and may we all realise that human lives is all that matters, much above nationality, ethnicity, food habits, religion and political inclinations.