Singapore’s communities and Covid-19

OCTOBER 11 — The other day I was in the lift heading down to the carpark when an elderly man got in and coughed. Seconds later, I coughed. 

We both immediately leapt away from each other even though we were wearing masks. 

Only when I got off did I realise the uncle was very familiar but I hadn't recognized him with his mask on. Like me, he had lived in the building for decades.  

What's worrying is that a lift ride with an old neighbour has suddenly become a frightening experience. 

Where previously we might have chatted, this time we kept our interaction to a minimum.  

This is all well and good for Covid-19 mitigation but it's bad for the community which is in turn bad for the economy and the nation.

Singapore is already divided enough. There are divisions between races, we see tension between foreigners and locals, between the rich and poor and virtually everyone is separated from the thousands of foreign manual laborers who keep our city running.

These tensions were a problem long before Covid-19 but the social distancing required to combat the coronavirus has also exacerbated these divisions. 

Today we are masked whenever we are outside our homes, gatherings are restricted to five people and many of us are still working from home. 

So how do we meet ? How do we mingle?  

Everyone has retreated into their nuclear family or very core group of friends. How long will this last... weeks, months or years? 

Stimulating the economy via government spending is somewhat straightforward while building communities is hard, delicate work.  

But something has to be done.  

This year, there will be no large-scale Deepavali celebrations and very likely there will be  no major public Christmas and New Year festivities and Chinese New Year hangs in the balance.  

Of course health and containing the pandemic must take precedence over festivities but the essence of these festivals needs to be retained -- that is what we are pulling together for our communities, for our families, for our culture. 

Whether it's festivals or day to day gatherings, I think local MPs and residents' committees need to give thought to socially distanced events and safer outdoor activities. 

Or creative solutions: simple campaigns encouraging people  to write letters to their elderly neighbours or contribute to community art projects can all make a difference. 

An app or web portal can easily allow people to share and send meals with neighbours or even strangers if it's done via zoom and delivery. 

Instagram and Tik Tok competitions (for adults too) can also be helpful. As long as there are enough incentives, people will participate and this makes a difference.

These are difficult times and a push needs to be made to make sure people keep interacting, sharing and caring for each other.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles