SINGAPORE, Jan 5 — Although the world is only just entering the third year of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, news media have been reporting about people in various countries being tired of the social restrictions caused by the health crisis.
So it came as no real surprise to some people in Singapore — even though others were angry and disappointed — that a large group of revellers broke Covid-19 safety regulations to gather beyond the approved limits on the night of New Year’s Eve at Clarke Quay and threw their masks off with wild abandon.
One psychologist told TODAY that it may even be a sign that people are getting frustrated with Covid-19 safety rules in Singapore.
Praveen Nair, a psychologist at Raven Counselling and Consultancy, said: “Singapore is already known for its multiplicity of rules and regulations but most people are able to put that in the background as long as they can go about their daily lives.
“But the problem with the Covid-19 regulations is that they disrupt daily life, so people have this sentiment that it’s all too much and they cannot take it anymore.”
Singapore’s Covid-19 multi-ministry task force has previously acknowledged public frustration and confusion over the ever-changing restrictions but explained that this was due to the fast-changing situation as more information and data on the coronavirus emerged. Safety regulations have also been tightened from time to time to control the spread as clusters emerge.
The inebriated lot at Clarke Quay aside and despite the disruptions to their daily lives, some people told TODAY that they still see a need for infection controls.
For those who are tired of abiding by the rules all the time, they admit that they let their guard down when no one is around.
Over the weekend, videos circulated on social media showed large crowds counting down to the new year in Clarke Quay, with many appearing to have their masks pulled down.
In a statement on Sunday (Jan 2), the Government’s Covid-19 task force said that the authorities are looking into the gathering at Clarke Quay, which “involved some blatant breaches of safe management rules and is a potential superspreading event.”
It added that it understood the “desire and enthusiasm to usher in the new year, especially after two years of social restrictions” but reminded the public that Singapore is “still in the middle of a pandemic” and it urged everyone to continue exercising civic responsibility.
Speaking to TODAY, Nair said that while Singaporeans are generally law — and rule-abiding, he described the incident that happened at Clarke Quay as a “warning sign that things are not right”.
Nair also said that part of the frustration stems from the constantly changing rules, which can result in inconsistent messaging about what can or cannot be done.
Using parenting as an analogy, he said that a child will likely stop listening to their parents if they keep getting mixed messages from them on how to behave.
Offering another view, Kenny Liew, a clinical psychologist at psychological consultancy Mind What Matters, said that people who break the rules might be focused on convenience or ease, rather than the long-term benefits of following the safety measures.
“Sustaining a new behaviour also often requires reinforcement and reward, beyond just stopping old behaviour,” Liew said.
“As such, there may be fatigue setting in if the focus seems to be more on the ‘punishment’ of previous behaviours, rather than the benefits of the new ones.”
Frustration creeping in
Indeed, at least seven out of nine Singaporeans who spoke to TODAY said that they were tired of the prolonged duration of the Covid-19 regulations, particularly when they feel that not much has changed or the rules do not make sense to them.
Such is the case for a 26-year-old postgraduate who wanted to be known only as Syed.
“It’s been two years and even after all the deaths, fears, vaccination regimes nothing seems to have changed. The rules are, like, take one step forward, two steps back,” he said.
For instance, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is reported to be more transmissible than the Delta variant. Yet our office and school rules are relaxing, he added.
He also pointed out that rules for people dining out are capped at group sizes to five diners a table, but people may be attending multiple social gatherings in a day.
Paul Tan, 51, said that he could not help but notice some irony in that people are not allowed to crowd a gym, but they can do so in the mall where it is located.
Tan, who works in a rock-climbing gym, also lamented that there is a lack of enforcement against people with improperly worn masks or masks pulled down in public transport.
“It is very tiring (following the rules to keep the gym safe). But what to do?” he said. “That’s why the Clarke Quay incident makes me very angry. Here we are, trying our best to comply, but huge crowds can gather.”
Likewise, Audrey Wong, a 35-year-old who works in communications, said that she was disappointed with what happened at Clarke Quay.
“It’s like the KTV (cluster) all over again... I really hope we don’t go into lockdown (again),” she said, referring to the surge in Covid-19 cases in July last year that was attributed to irresponsible behaviour at illegal karaoke clubs masquerading as food-and-beverage outlets.
Although she is somewhat worn down by the prolonged Covid-19 restrictions — which have “so many implications on so many aspects of our community and our economy” — Wong added that she will never dare to break the rules in any form for fear of ruining her reputation and her career prospects should it land her in jail.
Still, Nigel Sim, a 33-year-old entrepreneur, said that he was not surprised by the Clarke Quay gathering, although he would not have expected such large crowds.
“Most (people in Singapore) are vaccinated and we have all been told that the vaccinated are more resistant to the virus... (moreover) the whole population has been restricted for so long,” he added.
Some of those interviewed by TODAY admitted that they might let their guard down at times — albeit in a minor way.
Sim, for one, said that when he is out and there is no one around him, he removes his mask “just so that I can feel the sun or breeze on my face”.
In any case, the entrepreneur said that he was aware of others who have held “huge parties” in their homes.
“But at this stage of the pandemic when most of us are vaccinated, hardly anyone is bothered.”
Strain on healthcare workers
Among those who spoke for the continued need for Covid-19 regulations was Juan Foo, a film producer in his 40s.
Having been infected with the coronavirus himself in November and now recovered, he is keenly aware of the need for safe distancing and mutual consideration.
“When I was hospitalised, I saw first-hand the extreme strain on the front-line staff and their dedication to pull through. It was very eye-opening and very humbling,” he said.
“This is a pandemic and we need to really be considerate across the board. So I am quite mindful of safety rules.
“My family unit also has high-risk individuals, myself included, so it is quite irresponsible to be flouting or bending the rules just for your own fun and enjoyment.”
Tan, the rock-climbing gym worker, said that all it takes is a cluster to form to shut the facility down — a prospect no one in the sports industry wants to happen, considering how badly Covid-19 has affected the sector.
“In a pandemic, everyone must work together. I wear a mask for hours at work. My hands are dry from constantly sanitising equipment. But I do know that all these help to prevent clusters, otherwise my workplace may be closed down,” he said.
As for one 29-year-old marketing manager who wanted to be known only as Siti, she said that the rules help ensure the safety of her young family.
She is expecting her second child.
“Getting infected now isn’t really a big deal anymore especially for those who are vaccinated. It’s just the kids that we are more worried about.”
Even then, she said that only “God knows” how much longer she can tolerate the rules. — TODAY