Commentary

Phase 2 reopening: Beware taking one step forward, two steps back

Up to each person to make sensible choices so virus doesn't return with a vengeance

An employee of Olden Street Bak Kut Teh at Changi Village Hawker Centre cleaning the table yesterday, as eateries prepare to welcome diners from Friday, when dining in is allowed to resume.
An employee of Olden Street Bak Kut Teh at Changi Village Hawker Centre cleaning the table yesterday, as eateries prepare to welcome diners from Friday, when dining in is allowed to resume. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Within minutes of Monday's announcement that Singapore would be moving into phase two of reopening the economy, some popular restaurants were already fully booked for the weekend.

The news that most activities will resume on Friday, with few exceptions, was met with excitement and anticipation all round.

At long last, shops can unshutter, dining in will be allowed, beaches will open, and people will be mostly free to do as they please, provided they stick to groups of five or less, maintain a 1m distance and keep their masks on except when eating.

Judging by the plans being made, many can't wait to be out and about, after more than two months of being cooped up mostly at home.

This new-found freedom has come at an immense cost.

Businesses have been battered to breaking point, healthcare workers and volunteers have been working tirelessly to test and treat those who might have been infected, and people have suffered from isolation and mental health issues.

Resuming activities will be a breath of fresh air for some, and a lifeline for others.

But the danger is far from over.

If phase one - with its many restrictions on the back of the circuit breaker - can be likened to someone peeping warily out of a crack in the door; the door has now been thrown open in phase two - with its plethora of options to choose from.

The problem is, the fight is not over. The virus still lurks within the community, and the more people are out and about, the more likely it is that cases or clusters will emerge.

As the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force's co-chairs, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, have said time and again, it is not the time to party.

An employee of Olden Street Bak Kut Teh at Changi Village Hawker Centre cleaning the table yesterday, as eateries prepare to welcome diners from Friday, when dining in is allowed to resume. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Strict enforcement will continue in phase two but, given the broad scope of activities, it is difficult to police everything.

The onus is therefore on individuals to think for themselves and do the right thing. As Mr Wong put it: "All of us need to really look at the spirit of the requirements and do our part to allow for the reopening to take place in a safe and sustainable manner."

This means keeping close contact to a minimum, travelling only when necessary, and working from home by default, even though it is so tempting to meet old friends and eat out often because you can.

Judging by Singaporeans' dismal recycling rate, their love of plastic and poor littering track record, though, they have some way to go when it comes to being socially responsible.

But there are also clear practical reasons for doing what is right.

When someone takes unnecessary risks, he could also put himself and his loved ones in harm's way.

If a business is not up to scratch when it comes to safe distancing and safe management practices, it may have to close again.

Provided all goes well in coming weeks or months, the restrictions will be eased even further.

But if cases flare up, the opposite will happen, and some hard-won freedoms will be lost.

So far, the strict circuit breaker measures and gradual easing of restrictions have worked.

Right now, the situation is looking promising. In the past two weeks, the number of Covid-19 cases in the community has remained stable and under control, most were detected as a result of active screening of workers and contacts, and no large new clusters have surfaced for a while.

After the curbs are lifted on Friday, any damage done will not be immediately apparent.

It will take about 10 to 14 days for actions to make their effect felt in terms of case numbers. This is the time it takes for two cycles of transmission of the virus; in other words, for the disease to spread from one infected person to the next, and for the second person to infect another.

Opening up can lead to outbreaks, as many places around the world are painfully finding out.

More than ever, it is up to each person to make the right and sensible choices, to ensure the virus does not return with a vengeance.

If not, all the sacrifices made in previous months may come to naught.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2020, with the headline Phase 2 reopening: Beware taking one step forward, two steps back. Subscribe