The Straits Times says

Singapore not out of the woods yet

It is of some concern that in the final weekend before the Christmas festivities - and ahead of the start of phase three - malls in Singapore were teeming with pre-pandemic crowd sizes. Understandably, shoppers in a festive year-end mood were looking for last-minute gifts. That is natural because Christmas and New Year, like other religious and secular festivals, come once a year. What is true in normal times is amplified by the abnormal year that is about to pass. Chinese New Year managed to escape, by a whisker, the arrival of an unwelcome period after Singapore confirmed its first case of Covid-19 on Jan 23. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the festive, and regular, calendar as it turned daily life upside down. It is human nature to celebrate the slow return to a new normal. That is what the shoppers may have been doing.

But it is still days away from phase three of Singapore's reopening on Dec 28, when larger gatherings of up to eight and expanded capacity limits at public places will be allowed. No matter how close it is to that welcome date, it is essential to remember that each phase of reopening will work only as well as the safety levels achieved in the previous phase. What is heartening is that, even as the crowds gathered, there were patrons at malls who displayed a sense of unease over the size of crowds and the lack of safe distancing.

That attitude reflected their concern for both personal safety and civic responsibility. Personal responsibility must continue to be complemented by the deployment of safe distancing ambassadors and official attempts to work with retailers so crowds can be managed better. Yet, no matter how well planned and implemented such measures are, Singaporeans need to play their part correspondingly by tempering their behaviour and curbing some of their enthusiasm.

It is not safe to assume that Singapore is out of the woods. Every step that is taken beyond the restrictions that have governed life this year is going to be incremental and will be prone to setbacks. A pertinent example is the discovery of a spate of infections at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore that has been an unwelcome surprise. Guests have been moved out after the discovery of cases affecting staff and those who were assigned to the hotel under stay-home notice. Farther afield, Britain warned of a new mutant strain of the coronavirus that is out of control there, prompting many countries to close their borders to British travellers. The good news is that there is no evidence so far to suggest that the strain is more lethal, causes more severe illness, or that vaccines will be any less effective against the variant. In the circumstances, Singaporeans owe it to themselves to remain vigilant against Covid-19. It has not passed. Extensive vaccination is still months away. Staying safe is what matters.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2020, with the headline Singapore not out of the woods yet. Subscribe