Circuit breaker anniversary: 12 ways a year of Covid-19 has changed us

SINGAPORE - It has been one year since the circuit breaker started on April 7, 2020. 

What a difference 12 months makes. We look at 12 ways the circuit breaker and the Covid-19 era have changed our lifestyle - from how we work and play to how we shop and dine.

1. Dressed for comfort

It started as a joke - being able to roll right out of bed and work in your pyjamas.

But as working remotely from home became the norm, dressing patterns shifted accordingly too.

Loungewear has taken root as the de facto uniform. Global retailers and local independent brands alike began launching comfort lines; even brands that once carved a niche in tight-fitting party gear switched to churning out cosy sweats for a world now couched at home.

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2. Grooming put on hiatus

When beauty salons shut last year on April 7, consumers were sent into a tizzy. Hair colouring treatments, manicures, hair removal and facials were officially deemed "non-essential" and made to take a back seat.

A few weeks later, hairdressing and barber shops offering basic haircuts were shut too, as part of tightening circuit breaker measures.

The men rioted, suddenly confronted with the reality of a month with no haircuts. Man buns flourished, No-Shave November was brought forward, and from the judgment-free safety of their homes, many an Asian man tried their hand at growing facial hair.

It became the year of home care, with many taking grooming and self-care rituals home as they waited for salons to reopen.

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3. Repurposed hotels

There are now dozens of reasons to "get a room".

Staycations have replaced the overseas proposal, the milestone birthday trip, the family getaway.

In lieu of business travel, executives book day-use rooms for solitude to work. Downstairs, bars and lobbies have been repurposed into co-working lounges.

In a year of no tourists, hotels have found new ways to stay relevant, attracting a Singapore crowd itching to travel but happy to settle for the next best thing.

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4. The new nightlife normal

A night out in Singapore now looks very different from 13 months ago - when you could stay out at restaurants and bars till or past midnight, hit the dance floor at a club filled with hundreds of other swaying bodies, or sing at the top of your lungs at your favourite karaoke joint.

Today, clubs have been transformed into spin cycling studios or pop-up restaurants; bars take last orders as early as 9.30pm; and a hovering waiter watches you scull your drink by 10.30pm, before the dreaded red-shirted safe distancing ambassador arrives.

Now, the norm for party-goers is earlier happy hours and pre-planning how many bars they can hit before the 10.30pm hard stop on serving alcohol.

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5. Building book buzz online

On Instagram, they pose with books or bedeck them with props that make the covers pop. On YouTube, they wax lyrical about wordcraft. On TikTok, they bawl their eyes out over twist endings.

Meet the Bookstagrammers, BookTubers and, most recently, the BookTokers - a new generation of social media-savvy bibliophiles who harness these platforms to push a love of reading.

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6. It's okay not to be okay

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the importance of good mental health to the forefront.

A slew of nationwide initiatives focusing on mental well-being have been rolled out since last year. Prominent public figures like DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta have also spoken openly about their mental health struggles in socially conservative Singapore, reducing the stigma surrounding the topic.

The National Care Hotline, which was set up in April last year to provide psychological first aid and emotional support during Covid-19, was one example of the historic scale of these efforts, says mental health professional Andrea Chan.

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7. Let's order in

With dine-in banned during last year's circuit breaker, ordering in quickly became the norm, especially when special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries could be celebrated only at home on a smaller scale.

Food delivery companies got off to a rough start as they struggled to cope with a surge in orders during Mother's Day in May. Eateries struggled to find drivers and orders were late or cancelled.

But over the last year, as demand for food delivery continued to grow - boosted by limits on social gatherings - operators have become better poised to cope with deluges during holidays and festive periods. More people are also using delivery services for gourmet gifting.

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8. Book ahead with fees

It used to be that getting a reservation at a restaurant meant calling just a few days ahead.

Not anymore. Now, you may have to reserve a few weeks or even more than a month in advance for popular eateries.

And do not even think about walking into these places without a booking.

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9. Rise of home cinema

For a while, it looked as if the pandemic had knocked cinemas out cold.

The venues were in a trap: With cinemas closed around the world, producers pulled films from release. Without crowd-pulling content, cinemas in countries that had successfully controlled the viral spread like Singapore might as well have stayed shut.

All the action was happening in the home.

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10. Live theatre meets digital

Since last April, Sight Lines has sold more than 2,000 tickets to its three digital hybrid shows.

It bills itself as a theatrical entertainment company and its offerings are a cutting-edge blend of gaming, theatre and technology.

Sight Lines is the embodiment of new "media-tainment" and hybrid approaches to live performances which have become the new normal for the arts scene.

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11. Tech goes touchless

Before Covid-19, most would have thought nothing of pressing lift buttons, opening doors and touching surfaces with their bare hands.

Today, the demand for safer touchpoints has boosted touchless technology in public areas and at the workplace.

Design and technology professionals have gone back to the drawing board to come up with new products and services that help reduce exposure to pathogens, with innovations such as "robo-clean" and "air touch".

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12. Hybrid work models

Virtual meetings, e-signatures, Zoom webinars and working from home in your pyjamas - these have become common work practices amid the pandemic.

Even with more people returning to the office this week, working from home is not going away anytime soon.

Instead, hybrid work models have emerged.

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