44% of people in Singapore tired of rules to limit Covid-19 spread: Survey

Important to keep communicating need and rationale for measures, say experts

These rules include a ban on gatherings of more than five, and the need to mask up when outside. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

With seven in 10 Singaporeans saying the Covid-19 outbreak has lasted longer than they anticipated, people are becoming weary of the rules to limit the spread of the virus, according to a Sunday Times survey of 1,000 people.

These rules include a ban on gatherings of more than five, and the need to mask up when outside.

It is natural for coronavirus fatigue to set in, according to experts such as Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"Wearing a mask every time we step out of the house is really not normal behaviour for us," he said, but the experts also agree that the authorities need to manage this to ensure Singapore's collective guard against the virus is not let down.

The online survey, which is representative of the Singapore resident population aged 16 and above, and was carried out by online market research firm Milieu Insight, showed that 44 per cent of people here are tired of following the necessary health measures. Of those surveyed, 27 per cent said that having to wear a mask was the most frustrating virus countermeasure.

One in five saw checking in with SafeEntry as a nuisance, while 14 per cent were unhappy about having to limit the size of physical gatherings with friends and family.

People were also unhappy about not being able to travel overseas, events being cancelled or postponed, and entry to public facilities being limited. Stadiums, swimming complexes and gyms, for instance, have a restricted operating capacity of 10 sq m per person.

Nearly four in 10 believed the rules were "a bit strict, but reasonable", while 5 per cent thought they were "overly restrictive".

Despite the fatigue, most respondents said they largely understood the rationale behind the rules and followed them.

When it came to masks, 76 per cent said they wore them properly all the time, while 20 per cent said they did so most of the time, even when no authorities were present.

Compliance was lower for social distancing, with 43 per cent saying they always kept their distance from others even when no authorities were around. Another 43 per cent mostly complied, with occasional lapses, while 10 per cent did so only from time to time.

The survey also found that younger people had been socialising with more groups outside their household each week since phase two of Singapore's reopening started on June 19, compared with those 35 and older.

Through strict safe distancing measures, Singapore recently managed to get the number of daily new infections down to below 90, with community cases remaining in the single digits. While these measures have to remain in place for the foreseeable future, experts said virus fatigue is a serious matter that the authorities should address.

"Society as a whole needs to acknowledge and address the presence of fatigue," said Prof Teo, believing that it was key for the authorities to continue communicating clearly with the public on the need and rationale for the measures.

He said Singapore's mandatory mask-wearing policy may seem "overbearing", but also highlighted why it was useful. Countries that only recommend their use tend to see a fall in the wearing of masks over time; in Singapore, there is a fine of $300 for a first offence.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the department of sociology at NUS' Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences felt that some precautionary measures, like patrons having to take their temperatures several times while in the same mall, can be made less inconvenient.

"In some places, there is seemingly an overkill in terms of the measures... I think when people feel that a measure is unnecessary or even ridiculous, they are less likely to comply," he said.

Prof Teo also highlighted a need for the authorities and the public to exercise forbearance in dealing with those who breach the rules, and reserve penalties for those who are "repeatedly recalcitrant".

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2020, with the headline 44% of people in S'pore tired of rules to limit Covid-19 spread: Survey. Subscribe