JULY 11 — The other day, a young man who was about to sit down next to me on the train asked, “Do you mind if I check if you have been vaccinated?”
My husband, who can at times be far less combative than me, responded in the affirmative very politely.
But, honestly, I found the question rude and intrusive.
Was this person suggesting that if I had not been vaccinated — and let’s recognise there are a myriad reasons why a person may not be vaccinated including medical issues but the most pressing is availability (this brings us to another important topic of patents and the hoarding of vaccines by the West) — he would not have sat next to me?
Should people be forced to disclose their medical choices publicly?
However, I realise we are in a quandary. Mass vaccinations seems to be our only way out.
And we need a way out because at the height of the lockdown last year, there was a strange source of comfort — that despite the loneliness and difficulty of it all, we were all in this together.
Last year, for a few months, as the entire world grappled with Covid-19, we were all locked down together.
Businesses slowed down, the world had fewer expectations and the globe’s attention was focussed on one thing and one thing only.
A small comfort to the people who lost loved ones or their livelihoods but a comfort nonetheless.
To borrow a Singlish expression, you could feel less “kiasu” because everybody was in the same position.
Now, a year later — the situation has some of us feeling a little more “kiasu” and quite honestly “kancheong” — the West, with USA leading the charge, is opening up (amply available vaccinations, no more mask mandates, businesses opening up) while Asean is still struggling.
Last week, the region reported a record number of Covid-19 cases, with the situation worsening in Indonesia.
Anecdotally, there is a lot of fatigue on the ground. Friends and families are exhausted — weary of lockdowns, limited group size and just the general sense of control.
For example, in Singapore, restaurants are not allowed to play music. A minor inconvenience perhaps but on the back of so many restrictions it almost feels like that final straw.
What is the way out? Is it vaccination? Some countries — including Singapore — have ramped up doling out the vaccine.
But between this division of haves and have nots and new variants, the vaccine may not be the clear way out we all hoped.
So, Asean needs to ask itself: how do we strike a balance between public health, public sanity and polite society?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.