Chill Pill

Coronavirus: Catching a slight case of crisis fatigue

Have you noticed something? When people say we have to adjust to the "new normal", they never mean a new normal in the sense that we will be forced to live in mansions to have every whim catered to by infallible robot servants.

What they usually mean is that we have to get used to things being worse and that's that. Adjusting to the new normal also means we shouldn't complain about it because it would be like complaining about gravity.

Since I enjoy complaining about the uncomplainable - some people can see ghosts, I can see grouses - I can say that this post-circuit breaker phase is going to drive me round the bend, new normal or not.

And I am not alone. Men are fighting in Holland Village. And the search for certain baking ingredients is taking on the scale and complexity of a hunt for a missing nuclear submarine and bakers are fed up.

The uncles around my block, who during the circuit breaker lay dormant like hibernating chipmunks, have awakened in phase two and are furiously making up for lost time: Masks under chin, weaving their bikes through the market crowds, leaving a puffy contrail of cigarette smoke - they are living their best lives now. It's like an Uncle Pride Mardi Gras Parade out there.

The phase 2 loosening could not have happened at a better time. People are restless. They are ready to flee Sengkang or Yishun and head to Bangkok, the Maldives or the nearest mall.

I have a gut feeling that revolt was narrowly averted.

When I say "revolt", I am of course talking about it in the Singapore context, which is they tap their TransitLink cards a little harder when boarding and snitching on others who break social distancing rules.

Snitching? Well, if you insist.

People tell me of how one group of five diners - the maximum allowed under phase 2 - might share food and utensils with groups at other tables. By using the power of the reach-and-eat, they have defeated the 1m safety gap. As they say, teamwork makes the dream work.

On bike rides along the Changi coast route, I notice cyclists clumping into groups that are getting bigger as the weeks pass. Are they training for a National Day mass display, I wonder? At this rate, we might be looking at a Lycrapalooza.

The sneaky thing about bike groups is that when the authorities show up, they get to flee the scene quicker. It works like this: get spotted, disperse, reassemble; get spotted again, disperse, reassemble. You might say it's a vicious circle.

I will be the first to admit that a bit of rebellious rule-bending is thrilling.

For example, I had a thought: If religious gatherings were allowed tomorrow, and I wanted to hold a massive family party at a condo, I'd invite a party-friendly religious leader and call it a worship event. If the authorities ask why the sacred rituals include barbecue and pool wrestling, I'd say it is the high holy day of our patron saint of chillaxification and who are we to anger him?

The phase 2 relaxations do not seem to have triggered a spike in community transmission for now, but it is early days yet and, for all we know, everything might be rolled back to circuit breaker status should infections climb.

If the rule-bending I've noticed is any indication, going back to the dark days of May and April, when our hair grew long and tempers at bubble-tea queues grew short, won't be as easy as before, if it was easy at all to begin with.

Folk are falling back on old ways, but with updated twists, what with uncles with masks perma-chinned, the flash-mobbing walkers, runners and cyclists and plate-passers in restaurants.

Okay, so a few anecdotes don't make a trend. This is more a sense of things than anything measurable.

I feel that when pundits talk about the "new normal", they are talking about those who follow the rules. For the rest of us, coping with crisis fatigue, they might be in the new normal, but up to their old tricks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2020, with the headline 'Catching a slight case of crisis fatigue '. Print Edition | Subscribe