Safer Chinese New Year celebrations

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The tightening of restrictions ahead of the coming Chinese New Year period is a cautionary move to ensure that celebrations can still take place, but in a safe atmosphere. It bears remembering that Singapore saw a spike in Covid-19 cases after Chinese New Year last year, with multiple clusters linked to celebratory gatherings. To avoid a recurrence of that outbreak, it has been necessary to make pre-emptive moves to strengthen measures amid the outbreak, and to be mentally prepared that Chinese New Year this year will not be quite the same as before. It will be quieter, subdued and, perhaps, more disciplined. Unfortunate though this is, the social need of the hour is to get people to reduce unnecessary exposure to one another. Thus, from tomorrow, each household will be allowed to receive up to only eight visitors a day. Also, individuals should limit themselves to visiting at most two other households a day, as far as possible. During the Chinese New Year period, people should visit family members only. Diners must wear face masks when not eating or drinking, and voices should not be raised at any time. Hence, masks must be worn, even while tossing yusheng, with no recitation of the usual auspicious phrases that are uttered at the time. Enforcement checks will be stepped up during this period, and strict action taken against individuals and business operators that breach safe management measures.

These restrictions might appear onerous to Singaporeans who are accustomed to Chinese New Year as being a traditional time for family gatherings and outings, inter-generational feasts, particularly reunion dinners, and a general sense of camaraderie shared with friends, colleagues and society at large. That spirit has survived over time through economic ups and downs, both personal and national. But the coronavirus pandemic has turned social habits and expectations upside down. Close proximity, which is a cherished value of the social ecosystem that binds people together, has become a threat to their lives and well-being. Instead, social distancing has become the new index of sociability itself.

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