More than 600 fines issued for Covid-19 safety breaches in first quarter

A group of three people gathering without masks at Beo Crescent Estate on May 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
A man seen not wearing his mask properly, on May 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
A group of people seen gathering outside People's Park Complex on May 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
A group of men drinking and hanging out at Toa Payoh Lorong 1 on May 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
A group of people seen gathering at Beo Crescent Estate on May 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - A bespectacled elderly man sat below a block of flats in Tiong Bahru, poring over a newspaper - without a mask on.

He was alone, and did not seem to be bothered that he was unmasked even though there were a few other people around on a recent weekday morning.

When approached by The Straits Times, he explained that he had a mask and had taken it off only for a while.

Said the 70-year-old retiree, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chee: "For old folk like me, wearing the mask can be suffocating. I find it so hard to breathe. Younger people would find it much easier."

Mr Chee told ST he was not afraid of catching the virus - he thought he was safe as long as he stayed away from crowded places.

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said that more than 600 fines were issued to individuals who breached safe distancing and safe management measures from January to March this year. Of these, more than 350 were issued to those not wearing masks.

A Land Transport Authority spokesman said that its public transport workers encountered an average of 10 cases of commuters not wearing masks every month this year.

Besides not wearing masks, common breaches from January to March also include gathering in a larger number than the permitted group size and intermingling between groups at food and beverage outlets, said MSE.

From May 16 to June 13, social gatherings are limited to two people, and dining out is not allowed.

MSE said that while the public has generally continued to comply with the measures since they were announced, there is a minority who has been non-compliant.

Over two days, in Toa Payoh, Tiong Bahru and Chinatown, ST found at least 15 people who were not wearing masks and 18 groups of people that had exceeded the two-person limit.

People seen without masks outside People's Park Food Centre last Monday. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

These groups had between three and six people. Most were in void decks or at common areas around the various neighbourhoods.

Dr Cherie Chan, president of the Singapore Psychological Society, said people might choose to flout rules for social connection, to escape from an unsafe environment, or because of optimism bias, where an individual believes that a negative event - in this case, getting infected with Covid-19 - would not befall them.

Dr Annabelle Chow, clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, said many people have grown accustomed to and enjoyed the gradual relaxation of restrictions over the past few months.

As the current measures are not as drastic as those implemented during the circuit breaker, it may lead to a perception that the threat levels have decreased significantly and people do not see the need to follow the recommendations and restrictions.

People might also flout rules because of Covid-19 fatigue.

Dr Chow said repeated exposure to pandemic-related news will eventually diminish the initial feelings of anxiety and caution about the virus.

She added that having heightened restrictions after progressing from previous lockdown measures could lead to more pandemic fatigue.

Dr Chan, who also mentioned fatigue, said: "There's no sense of this pandemic ending... It feels like every time we hit a milestone of change, or a new low (in the number of cases), something bad is going to happen again."

That is why Dr Chan encourages more compassion towards these rule-breakers. "It's very easy to judge and make comments about these people," she said.

"But everybody's in this unfortunate situation together, and showing kindness, even though it may feel counter-intuitive, might be more helpful in encouraging people to be more socially compliant."

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