It was just two days into the Great Singapore Shutdown and the late night message from Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli had a tone of exasperation to it: Stay Home! By late on Wednesday, there were some staggering numbers. More than 10,000 advisories had been issued by enforcement officers to people who gathered at hawker centres, markets and Housing Board public spaces, among other locations, and who failed to abide by safe distancing measures. There were gatherings of young and old, and they were doing so in the day, and at night. Exercise groups met in parks, and many people in queues, especially in markets, were not observing the 1m safe distance recommendation. All this after a hail of publicity, outreach and persuasion. It can only lead to stringent, tougher enforcement and, inevitably, some people are going to end up in court, and perhaps even see the inside of a jail.
Yet any fine or other sentence they might receive will not come anywhere near the $5 billion budgeted by the Government to help Singaporean families, businesses and workers - who have been asked to study and work from home as far as possible - tide over the disruption brought on by the coronavirus outbreak. The goal behind having a circuit breaker period is to hopefully stop the spread in the community, given that the number of locally transmitted cases has spiked in recent weeks.
That is not going to happen if 10,000 people already, and who knows how many more in the days to come, continue with their wanton disregard for what can only be regarded as a civic responsibility to look out for their family, relatives, friends and colleagues - especially the elderly - not to mention their own well-being.
The rules are neither onerous, nor hard to comprehend. The ability to move around - to shop for essentials, to get food, to tend to an elderly relative, to exercise - has not be curtailed. If only people observe simple, commonsense practices: Stay clear of crowds, stand some distance apart, don't loiter, wear a mask if needed. Trying to game or test the limits of the regulations serves no one's interests, as anyone can be infected in the process.
In this digital age, there is much that can be done on the phone and online: work, study, play, being entertained, chatting, reaching out and touching someone virtually. Even shopping and ordering food. Staying home and safe distancing are critical to the Covid-19 fight. Many do not have this luxury: those on the healthcare front line working to save lives; delivery and transport workers, cleaners and infrastructure maintenance folk who keep the country humming. The choices are hard, but Singaporeans must do the right thing to help everyone emerge from the pandemic with fewer lives and livelihoods lost.