So are we taking a detour, making a U-turn or stepping on the brakes? Too many metaphors – and memes – are making the rounds these days to make sense of how we’re trying to find a way out of the Covid-19 jungle.
If people have started swearing at the G for yet another “calibrated’’ move yesterday, I can’t say I blame them. You simply cannot make plans for the future with the virus in place. Worse, if you are in the service line and can’t make your figures add up because you don’t know when the crowd will be kept at bay. And if you have been following closely each easing of restrictions on working in the office, you feel like you’ve been taken for a ride when we are now told we should just work from home.
Variations in social distancing measures notwithstanding, the new wrinkle is the testing regimen we’re installed for this so-called preparatory stage towards living with the virus. People are simply confused about what they should do when they follow instructions to test themselves for the virus. This isn’t about whether you can hold a party and for exactly how many people, or avoiding areas which have been designated as clusters. This is about living well or being sick or dying.
It doesn’t matter that we’ve been told a billion times that being infected doesn’t mean you need hospital care, especially if you’ve been vaccinated. I think most people will hold their breath to see where the line in the ART kit surfaces after you’ve made a foray into your nose. It’s as bad as an unwanted pregnancy.
It isn’t often that the G is caught on the backfoot when it comes to efficient preparation. The Delta virus scaled up so fast (and now detected even quicker with self-testing) that hotlines are jammed causing people simply to go to where they think they will get help – the hospital. And when you have videos of patients in recliners on the hospital floor circulating online, you start thinking that this can’t be Singapore.
So we should recover at home. But the confusion over home recovery entails means fears for the health of our loved ones, which is more potent than fear of business failure or a lost job. Should we mask up at home?
Yesterday, the multi-ministerial task force looked suitably morose when the ministers referred to the confusion of the past few days. Hospitals were burgeoning with people because community care facilities aren’t ready to take them in. The assurance is that things are being done as fast as Singapore can, drawing help even from the armed forces, volunteers from the People’s Association and private sector medical groups.
I thought we made a great start post-National Day. We reined in our activities and got more people vaccinated. The roadmap looked clear and the numbers were promisingly low. We know we won’t have a Freedom Day but we could expect that, maybe, we can eat out together with family and friends, after doing safe entry checks, showing our vaccination records and sticking to the directions of social distancing ambassadors. After all, we kept to our bargain to stick to the rules.
But nothing can really prepare us psychologically for the escalating numbers of new cases. From an expected 1,000, we’re told we can expect 3,000 or even more each day. With that comes more deaths and more cases in ICU. We’re told to look at the rate of increase rather than absolute numbers. But somehow, having twice as many deaths isn’t comforting, even when the rate pales next to the number of new cases each day. We’re not wired in that cold-blooded and rational way. More so when other aspects of our lives seem so uncertain.
I know we sniff when politicians start describing the virus as a sneaky, devious and ingenious unseen enemy which can outwit humans – and yet talk about having to live with it. It sounds so contradictory. Should we be afraid or not afraid? Is it really a problem when the total number of cases go up if the seriously ill numbers don’t move in tandem but slow down? Then we have the vaccination travel lane for Brunei and Germany and we wonder why. Each policy, restriction or easing has its own logic and usefulness – but it’s too difficult to see the wood for the trees.
Then there are new-ish worries, like the need for booster shots and the vulnerability of young people. Every time we get an assurance about an issue, news breaks of something else happening somewhere else and yet another study drawing yet another conclusion. Then the tone changes. What used to be compared to the flu is no longer the case. The flu, I can understand, the Covid-19 Delta virus, I can’t.
It’s easy to get angry with the ministerial task force for flipping and flopping, even as it tries to resolutely maintain that we’re on the way to opening up. I think we get angry because we’re so used to the efficiency and effectiveness of the G. We’re used to the idea of exceptionalism and excellence. We look back to the days when the old-timers were in charge, thinking that they would have handled it better. We think they would have simply told us what to do and not pussyfoot with the measures and do a series of stops-and-starts.
I’m not sure.
We need to remember that this isn’t a Singapore problem, but a global one. Every country is trying to make its way out of its own jungle. It’s not about making use of an ideological compass but an ever-changing scientific one. Maybe, we should be more graceful about lapses, like the poor communication between worried people and officialdom over the past few days. It’s temporary. I say this because there are people who have been working non-stop in dangerous positions for close to two years trying to pull us out of this morass. Our Covid fatigue can’t compare to theirs.
Singapore, I would think, is better geared towards dealing with crises than most other countries. We should be glad that we’re rich enough to afford yet another round of support measures and can go for a third jab, when those in poorer countries haven’t got a job or a jab. That while we live in close proximity making the spread of the virus easier, we’re also small enough to pull together in one direction. That while we might have anti-vaxxers in our midst, we’re still among the countries with the most vaccinated people.
Now, we have to make our advantages count.
Can the G keep pointing the way to EXIT out of the Covid-19? We voted you in, and we will follow (at least I will). That’s the pact that’s made every election – unless we think we moving towards a dead end.