I’m writing this from my room in Bukit Merah, Singapore.
It’s been over two months since the coronavirus pandemic swept the world. Its effects are unprecedented. A volcanic eruption affects and kills people in one area. A tsunami rips through entire coastal areas or a region. A pandemic, however, chooses no borders. It starts in one place. It spreads to others. In days and weeks, it is everywhere.
It almost feels as if 2020 triggered an entirely new simulation. The assassination in Iran. Brexit. Prince Harry leaving the royal family. A volcanic eruption just a few kilometres away from my parents’ home in Cavite, Philippines. And then this mysterious outbreak in Wuhan. Terrifying news coming out of China in January.
It’s the end of March. Borders have virtually closed down. Quarantine is in effect in multiple countries. The pandemic epicentre shifted to Europe (Italy, Spain… centres of bad news). The Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been postponed. Leaders of countries have tested positive. This past week, the United States overtook China as the country with the most cases. What was unimaginable weeks ago is now a reality. WTF is going on.
In the Philippines, my family and loved ones on the island of Luzon are under ‘enhanced quarantine’. People are restricted to stay home. Public transportation has been suspended until mid-April. Malls have closed. Only public markets, pharmacies, banks, and select restaurants remain open. As of this writing, my family have been staying at home and relying on relatives or our family driver to procure groceries. My brother has a ‘quarantine pass’ which allows him to leave the house anytime between 8am and 5pm only. I send my mom Zumba videos. We’ve also created a family group chat on WhatsApp so we are aligned on communication at all times.
Here in Singapore, the cases have increased in the past two weeks. A steady and manageable amount suddenly spiked with up to 70+ cases in one day. Mostly attributed to imported cases. These are Singaporeans and Singapore Residents who are returning to Singapore before the borders ‘closed’.
Here are some examples of regulations enforced in Singapore:
- All short term visitors (tourists, essentially) are no longer allowed in Singapore.
- All returning long-term visit pass holders (work visa holders such as myself) will no longer be allowed to re-enter Singapore. Only those working in the medical or essential services are allowed back in.
- Social distancing was encouraged in the past few weeks. But in the past few days, it is now strictly enforced. Penalties for non-compliance will be taken seriously. There are actual ‘social distancing ambassadors’ out on the streets now.
- Cinemas, bars, karaokes, and ‘discos’ (yes, they used that) closed down this past week. These measures are effective until the end of April.
- Gatherings of more than 10 people are discouraged now.
- Virtually all big events with many people = postponed or cancelled.
- Malls are enforcing single or fewer entry points to monitor how many people are in an establishment. The number of people per square meter will be monitored.
- By this point, many employees are working from home.
- I am now working from home, indefinitely.
Some of the things I’ve observed:
- Video conferencing is the new norm. Not only for work-related calls. I’ve organised video conference calls with college friends and high school friends.
- The appetite to go out has decreased more in recent days. In early March, I felt fine going out to meet a friend or two. Stay in small groups. Try to live normally. But towards the end of March, with the growing number of cases… I just don’t have the energy. I’d rather stay at home and cook.
- I’ve cooked a record four times in a week. I’ve also cooked sinigang and torta (Filipino-style beef and egg patties) for the first time. Proud of myself.
- I’m dealing with anxiety more. Not being able to see my colleagues. Living with uncertainty over employment options that exist or don’t exist.
- Doing online groceries is easy. But booking a slot for delivery is difficult.
- I apply isopropyl alcohol almost every 15-30 minutes. I have two bottles with me in my room (one near my bed, the other on my home office table). I’ve also placed one outside to share with my flatmates in the dining room.
- I limit grocery time to once or twice a week.
Here’s the beef. And there will be profanity, for good reason.
Singapore has done a fucking good job of managing the COVID-19 crisis. The Singapore government has been praised by the World Health Organisation. The measures from communication to quarantine – it works for a country that is largely disciplined to follow. Because it’s what works best for the greater society. Even the prime minister did a tremendously amazing job at speaking to his people in a nationwide address. PM Lee is calm, reassuring, thorough but concise. There is no non-sense compared to how neighbouring countries have tried to manage this.
Singapore even has an epic stimulus plan to support affected sectors in the country. These measures are aimed to help its citizens navigate this extraordinary time. Singapore prepared for this rainy day. And holy shit, it’s paying off.
BUT for the resident population, non-Singaporeans, those of us who are on work visas. I can’t help feeling anxious as to the support people like me will get. I’ve been paying taxes in Singapore for eight years. I am law-abiding and respectful. I’ve integrated and contributed. But once my work visa gets cancelled, what will happen to me? Every resource for Singapore is intended for Singaporeans (and I respect that, nations should feed its own people first). But there are those of us who are not Singaporean but call our Singapore home. I don’t know how to feel.
Here are my worries:
- When my work visa gets cancelled in a few weeks, I’ll lose my status as a resident and long term visa holder. I’ll revert to short term visa. Will I still get my 30 days to remain in Singapore? Or have the rules changed? Will I be picked up by a van and ushered straight to the airport… only to discover there are no flights to Manila. Where will I go?
- Will I be able to secure a new employment opportunity in the next few weeks? And if I do, will the government approve my new work visa? Or are they restricting as well since the job market has suffered and Singaporeans must be considered first? They are already supposed to be considered first (I agree, respectfully), but are levers being pushed harder? Will my attempts at new employment be futile?
- My family in the Philippines. Cases are going underreported. Hospitals won’t be able to handle an outburst of cases if the situation deteriorates similar to countries in Europe and North America. If I do get sent home to the Philippines, will I be able to transit from airport to my family home? How will I do self-quarantine in my own Cavite house (or should I self-quarantine in Manila)? Is there food near my hotel or AirBnb if that happened?
- Does my family have enough to eat? Is the situation stable (it is) and will it stay stable in the next few days and weeks? The Luzon-wide quarantine is valid until April 13. Will it be extended? For how long? What is the government doing to protect the vulnerable like the urban poor or senior citizens. What if crime rates increase and criminals take advantage of this situation?
- My relatives, uncles, aunts… are in their 60s and 70s. What about them? Those who live in congested neighbourhoods. How are they coping? What happens if they’ll need help and will we be able to help them? Will we be able to help ourselves first?
- How long will this last? Do I trust my government to be doing everything it can? Or is the incompetence now clearer than ever. And the mortality rate will increase with hospitals overwhelmed?
I rarely am an alarmist. But the alarms are ringing. They’re ringing in Singapore, in the Philippines, in the United Kingdom, in the United States.
This is the biggest global disruption in recent memory. We can’t compare it much to anything similar. Our generation did not grow up in a world war. There were wars in places. But you can still enjoy a margarita on a beach somewhere. Today, you can’t. Well, you can make one at home. But you know what I mean.
I hope the new testing kits I keep hearing about get created and distributed quickly. I hope the crisis gets managed in hard-hit countries like Italy and the United States. Developing countries look to the developed ones for hope. The world looks to China for hope (our Beijing office re-opened). I’m not going into the narrative of blame. Covid-19 has changed life as we know it in 2020. I hope we learn from every mistake we encounter.
Stay safe and I’ll keep you updated on more. This is my first written blog recently. I’ve been producing videos lately as a form of stress relief.
I get my updates from Singapore’s Ministry of Health.