Covid-19 circuit breaker sparks debate over its efficacy

While some call for more stringent measures, others distressed by impact on life and society

Some Straits Times Facebook readers are having doubts about the Covid-19 circuit breaker, even as others are praising the efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore.

Extending the circuit breaker in Singapore is "useless if you still allow people to exercise (outdoors), and the whole family with kids to come out for purchasing groceries", said Fion Juan of the possible extension.

Nigel Nigel wrote: "What breaker also no use. 'Stay at home' becomes 'come out jogging'. What a joke. Ban all outdoor exercising immediately."

The circuit breaker was launched on April 7 to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Singapore.

During this time, schools and most workplaces are closed. People have to stay home unless they need to go out for essential activities, like buying food. They can exercise in outdoor open spaces and shop for groceries with people living in the same household.

This period is due to last until May 4, but Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that if necessary, it would be extended. Even when it has ended, he warned that "we should not have the idea that at the end of a circuit breaker, everything will revert to normal and you don't have to wear masks any more, we don't have to have distancing any more".

Experts also warned recently that repeated circuit breakers may be needed until a vaccine is ready, which may be months or years away.


These statements were met with distress by some ST Facebook users, whose posts were plastered with many emojis of faces streaming with tears.

Faizurah Aris said simply: "I miss my parent."

SPH Brightcove Video
Covid-19 survivors are asking Singaporeans to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Ben Tan wrote about the directive to wear masks: "Please do not make me wear mask until the end of the year, it's way too uncomfortable!"

Since April 14, it has been mandatory for everyone to wear a mask when they step out of their homes, except those engaging in strenuous exercise and children below the age of two.

Missing the warmth of face-to-face interaction was SiTi DiNo, who pleaded: "Please don't extend. Really need to go to a coffee shop and meet up with friends."

Giving a more macro-level view was ST Facebook user Harvey Neo, who felt strongly that circuit breakers would do more harm than heal. "Are you nuts? Repeated circuit breakers. You want 80 per cent of the small businesses to shut down, is it?"

This led to other ST Facebook users responding. Reuben Neo said: "Harvey Neo, better than to have your coffin nailed shut."

Fand Zee agreed with Harvey Neo, saying: "You can afford six months no work, no income? Housing loans, shop rental and school fees, insurance still need to pay. Even defer (for) six months, you also bankrupt."

Asked Sammie Yeo: "Harvey Neo, even if you open up now with no circuit breaker, but the (infection) numbers keep climbing, do you really think businesses will do well? Are people gonna dine and wine as normal when their neighbours and friends are infected, and even dying? The pandemic is upon us, we have no choice."

If ST Facebook readers had a choice, a couple of them would push the circuit breaker's end date to a specific month.


  • RETAIL ICON CLOSES DOWN: Liang Court mall closed its doors recently. While some ST Facebook readers mourned its end ("Teenage memories there," said Anthony Adam), others were not surprised by its demise. Jacques-Antoine Lavet pointed out that there were "too many malls" here. Jimmy Yip wrote philosophically: "Ah, city life… A constant metamorphosis."

    COVID-19 'GHOST' SCARE TACTIC: An Indonesian village used volunteers dressed as ghosts to scare people into staying indoors. ST Facebook users responded with laughter and memes. Some, however, disapproved of the tactic. KC Lee said: "It causes unnecessary fear in children... For those who are not deceived, it will not be effective at all."

Donna Tay suggested: "Extend to the end of June is better. Coincide with June school holidays. Can keep our children safe and sound."

"I suggest you don't take chances any more. This is so disruptive, so just extend till June end one shot. Bring the numbers down fast. Flatten the curve," said Sean Saravanan, referring to a graph curve used to visualise when new cases happen and at what speed during a virus outbreak. Flattening the curve means preventing a sharp rise in the number of infections over a short period of time.


Some ST Facebook users are not seeing how the current measures could flatten the curve fast enough.

Zam Soha asked: "How to get back to normal… Today, I still see some people not wearing masks, some pulling down the mask to the neck, exposing their nose and mouth, chatting with others in the market and hawker centre or talking on the phone."

Other ST Facebook readers have also been seeing red after observing similar behaviour. They have little faith in people toeing the line when it comes to safe distancing and staying at home, so they are calling for the Dorscon alert level to be raised to red.

This is the highest alert level on the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon), which indicates the severity of a disease outbreak in Singapore. The alert is orange at the moment.

"Lockdown means lockdown. What stupid nonsense circuit breaker. No wonder people are not so serious (about it)," said Ming Lu.

The April 7 to May 4 circuit breaker was launched in Singapore to stem the spread of Covid-19. People have to stay home unless they need to go out for essential activities, like buying food and exercising outdoors, as seen in this picture taken at East Coast Park on April 11. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Eric Ang did not want so-called half measures, saying: "Should lockdown everything. If not, half here, half there, also no use."

Posted Wong Siow Kam, rather unambiguously: "Just go to Red. Anyone outside, just jail them." But would going to a red Dorscon alert level really solve the problem once and for all? Would extending the circuit breaker period till June really do the trick?

The possible solution lies in what experts have been saying: Contain the virus spread with various moves until an effective vaccine is developed.

Do not pin all your hopes on a particular date or a silver bullet though.

"Life might normalise once we have a vaccine to fight against this virus," said ST Facebook reader James Thong.

He had, perhaps, a realistic view on it, warning: "It may (take) decades to try to eradicate this virus, or like the flu, we accept we die from it."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 19, 2020, with the headline Covid-19 circuit breaker sparks debate over its efficacy. Subscribe