MARCH 27 — So the pandemic has ended. Or rather it is ending. Or, well, it will begin ending next week.
The Singapore government has announced a significant easing of its previously stringent Covid-19 restrictions.
On March 29 — next Tuesday — masks will no longer be required outdoors. Groups of up to 10 people will be allowed to socialise and dine together; previously only five people could sit at a single table or gather together.
Bars will be able to stay open until midnight; for over two years, alcohol hasn’t been served after 10.30pm.
Up to 75 per cent of those working from home will be able to return to work. Travel rules pertaining to pre-departure Covid-19 testing and quarantines will be significantly eased.
It will be much easier to travel in and out of Singapore and on March 31, the Causeway connecting Singapore and Malaysia will reopen to the public.
Both the Causeway and the Tuas link will be open 24 hours a day more or less as they were before.
Singaporeans will be able to drive to Malaysia and Malaysians will be able to drive to Singapore. The umbilical link severed in an unprecedented fashion on March 18, 2020 will be reattached more than two years later.
Now all these relaxations are for the vaccinated; if you aren’t vaccinated, you will still be subject to a whole host of restrictions but these days the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans and Malaysians are vaccinated.
So it should be back to something resembling the old normal for many travellers.
But the restaurant and dining situation is still not normal. A 10 pax restriction is still a restriction and bars opening until midnight is good but Singapore was a 24-hour city. When will those days return?
The government seems to be holding out for the prospect of a return to something like the old normal which some of us feared would be left behind forever.
Masks are one thing — what about the erosion of privacy, the enormous surveillance brought about by Covid-19 restrictions? When will the government roll those back?
But we do see light at the end of the tunnel and, in fact, the end may be nearer than we thought. But questions do remain.
Infections and deaths from Covid-19 are still relatively elevated in Singapore — or have been in the previous two or three weeks.
If you look at the average number of deaths from Covid-19 per week over the course of the pandemic, we were till very recently seeing far higher rates now than in most of 2020 and 2021.
There has been a drop recently and the authorities have stopped emphasising daily infection and death figures but they are still somewhat high.
We will need to look back and wonder why we locked down for such a long period when deaths per week were near 0 but open up when they are higher than that.
Unlike Mainland China, the government seems to have given up on maintaining a zero Covid-19 strategy. So we are going to be living with the coronavirus for some time.
Personally, I think life is for living, not restricting but for many people the sudden return to semi-normality might be unsettling. Seeing people unmasked in public, large events, the return to working from the office will be a shock.
All sorts of services — late night transport, food stalls, everyone and everything connected to the Causeway — will have to re-gear and add capacity.
It will be a joy to see people’s faces outdoors and of course to travel freely... especially over the Causeway. I hope all my favourite makan spots in JB have survived.
But one way or another, it looks like: “Malaysia, here I come — me and very likely several hundred thousand of my fellow Singaporeans in short order.”
So, get ready.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.