- Tessa Wong
- BBC News, Singapur
As several countries see a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases, a small Asian island has become the best place to weather the global pandemic.
Last week Singapore topped the Bloomberg Resilience Rankings for Covid, ahead of New Zealand, which had dominated the chart for months.
The list considers factors ranging from case numbers to freedom of movement.
Bloomberg cited Singapore’s efficient vaccination program, compared to the slow rollout in New Zealand, as the main reason for the change in position.
So what is it like to live in the best place in the world during these uncertain covid times? And is it really all that it seems to be?
An almost normal life and a deep dissonance
Well, it is largely true. Life in Singapore can be pretty good, although I say so with some important caveats.
In recent months, aside from small outbreaks that have been quickly quelled, there have been almost zero community infections daily, although a number of new cases emerged this week alone and restrictions quickly tightened.
Strict travel rules and border security have meant that lImported cases generally stop in their tracks and arriving passengers are immediately isolated.
Other than a two-month confinement at the beginning of last year, we have never had to lock ourselves up again.
Life is almost normal: I can see my family at any time or meet friends for dinner in a restaurant, although we cannot be more than eight people.
Masks are mandatory everywhere, even outdoors, although you can take them off while exercising or eating.
Many of us have returned to work in an office with social distancing, and you can watch a movie, attend a concert, or go shopping as long as you wear your mask and sign up for a contact tracker app.
Schools and kindergartens are open, and on weekends I can take my children anywhere, although many campuses have a reduced capacity to ensure social distancing, so planning any activity is a lot like preparing for a military exercise (I am the unfortunate soldier and my children are the generals).
Approximately 15% of our population was fully vaccinated since the beginning of the year.
This statistic is due in part to a small population (we are only about six million), but also to well-managed implementation, great trust in government, and very little hesitation about immunization.
So we’re safe and we’re doing well: mandatory mask use, aggressive contact tracing, and lengthy travel restrictions and large gatherings have helped, as has the fact that we are an island with easily controlled borders. , large financial reserves and a relentlessly efficient system.
But at the same time, there is a profound disagreement in the idea that we are the best place to live right now.
Many in Singapore enjoy the freedom of movement, but that not the case for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers most of whom are still confined to their workplaces and bedrooms, after last year’s massive outbreaks due to precarious and unsanitary living conditions.
They have to ask their employers for permission if they want to get out of their bedrooms and, above all, socialize in government-approved recreation centers.
The government argues that all of this is necessary to protect the rest of the country, as there is a “real and significant” risk of another outbreak in their community.
This is not false, since many workers they live in crowded places than most Singaporeans, even after efforts to improve their accommodation.
But it also highlights the bitter fact that for all its talk of equality, Singapore remains a deeply segregated society.
This is “shameful and discriminatory,” says migrant rights activist Jolovan Wham.
“Because migrant workers lack political power, it somehow becomes socially acceptable that they bear the brunt of our policy failures,” he says.
“New Zealand is also at the top of the Covid Resilience list and yet it did not abuse people’s rights. It is not just about the result, but about the means to get there.”
The pandemic also continues to take its toll on disadvantaged and low-income families.
The government has invested millions of dollars propping up the economy and helping families in need, and the unemployment rate has remained low.
But the numbers don’t tell the full story.
Some workers have seen pay cuts and many of those who lost their jobs have found other jobs in the informal economy as food delivery people or drivers.
“It’s precarious and the feeling of not knowing how much you can earn that day can be very stressful,” says social worker Patricia Wee.
“They are also easily replaceable. So it’s that lack of social security.” This stress can affect families in “insidious ways,” he adds.
Cases of family violence, for example, have been on the rise, even after confinement.
A golden cage
Even for those of us who enjoy the privileges of freedom and a steady income, there are some downsides.
What little privacy we had before the pandemic in this highly policed state has further diminished.
We have come to accept that wherever we go, we have to use an app or keep a file that tracks our whereabouts and the people we come in contact with, even though the government says the data is anonymous.
With covid-19, the path to greater surveillance has accelerated without much public debate.
Many agree with the government’s argument that it is necessary in a crisis, but some have warned of the possible misuse of such massive data collection.
The government recently admitted that allowed the police to use this data for purposes other than contact tracing, despite previous privacy guarantees, and this lack of transparency infuriated some.
Many are also irritated by what has turned out to be a golden cage, thanks to strict quarantine rules in Singapore and elsewhere, which, for now, have ruled out easy travel.
It means that many of us still cannot see our loved ones in person in other countries.
Living in a populated city-state with no interior, many in Singapore are used to traveling abroad, even if it’s just a weekend excursion to a nearby Indonesian island or neighboring Malaysian border towns.
This is no longer possible, so tens of thousands have traveled on cruise ships to nowhere, while hotels are reserved for “holidays at home.”
Motorcycle and car enthusiasts, used to racing on the tracks and roads of Malaysia, have been riding endless closed circuits around the island.
The news that Singapore is opening a travel bubble with Hong Kong, after a failed attempt last year, was greeted with joy, then a sense of fatalism after community cases were reported in both cities this week.
“The survivor’s fault”
But it’s hard to complain about boredom when the virus is still ravaging some parts of the world.
Some of us, like writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, who has a family in India, where a devastating second wave is taking place, are experiencing something like “survivor’s guilt” as we watch loved ones suffer from afar.
“It feels strange that the situation in some countries on the planet is literally hell, while here we are waiting for the travel bubble“, dice.
“It is almost immoral that we are doing so well and enjoying our lives in isolation, and other countries are doing so badly.”
“Singapore is a city that has been enriched by globalization. Given our connectivity and the nature of economic development, I feel we have a greater moral responsibility. [de preocuparnos por otros países]”, he adds.
Many in Singapore would say that, for now, we are grateful and relieved that we have weathered a dangerous global pandemic in this safe little bubble.
But it will eventually explode. Singapore’s government has repeatedly emphasized that the country has to reopen for the sake of economic survival and has already started lifting restrictions on travelers from some places like mainland China and Australia.
Singapore will one day fully rejoin the rest of the world, and that will be our true test of covid resistance.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.