Commentary

Coronavirus: S'pore, please, just stay home - the circuit breaker works only if we all do

It feels like ages ago but it was just over 10 weeks ago that Singapore confirmed its first Covid-19 infection on Jan 23. A 66-year-old Chinese tourist from Wuhan had tested positive.

About a week later, the first Singaporean - a 47-year-old woman who had travelled to China - was confirmed to have the coronavirus.

On Feb 3, the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported the first local transmission. Patient No. 19, a 28-year-old Singapore resident who had not been to China, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

As of noon yesterday, Singapore had reported a total of 1,375 Covid-19 cases, more than 30 virus clusters and six deaths.

Of the 571 still in hospital, 25 are in critical condition in the intensive care unit. A total of 344 patients have recovered.

As part of ST's Covid-19 reporting team, I have followed every press conference held by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong - co-chairmen of the multi-ministry task force set up to combat the coronavirus.

From the start, they had said that Singapore would try very hard to avoid a shutdown of workplaces and schools which would significantly disrupt lives and businesses.

But as the number of local infections rose, it became clear that a shutdown could no longer be avoided.

This was especially so when the number of unlinked cases continued to rise, indicating community spread. Unlinked cases now make up a significant number of local cases announced each day.

And so from today, most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, will shut till May 4. Schools will close tomorrow as all students move to full home-based learning.

This should cut people's movements by about 75 per cent and hopefully break the chain of transmission.

Hawker centres, food courts and restaurants can serve only takeaway meals. Supermarkets will stay open but with strict safe distancing measures and limits on the number of people who can enter at any one time.

For the next one month, everyone is asked to please, just stay home.

It will require discipline to do this simple thing. Human beings are social animals. Cabin fever will set in, if it has not already, for the many people who have been working from home before the tighter guidelines on social distancing were announced.

But the truth is, we are in this state today because we have failed to listen; we have failed to do the right thing.

Despite being told repeatedly to see a doctor and stay away from others if we feel even a little unwell, some of us continued to go to work.

SPH Brightcove Video
Singaporeans - from celebrities to front-line workers - are making this plea: #StayHome and help stop the spread of the coronavirus.    

Despite being told to avoid large crowds, some of us continued to go to the mall, to dine out with large groups of friends and to go drinking at crowded bars.

Many who were ill walked around in public without wearing masks.

Despite being advised to avoid travelling, thousands of Singaporeans continued to travel and some returned with Covid-19.

Despite being issued with stay-home notices, some breached the 14-day notice. Every case of non-compliance puts others at risk. Every case of non-compliance that results in infection spread puts a strain on health resources.

The numbers do not paint a pretty picture.

The six patients here who have died were seniors aged 64, 68, 70, 75, 86 and 88. Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home is now a cluster, with 13 confirmed cases so far. There are concerns that the virus will take a toll among more seniors.

The Government has gazetted three foreign worker dormitories that have seen large numbers of Covid-19 cases as isolation areas.

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This means that more than 24,000 workers at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol, Westlite in Toh Guan and Toh Guan Dormitory in Toh Guan Road East are quarantined in their rooms for the next 14 days.

There are now more than 30 clusters and more than 200 unlinked cases.

SPH Brightcove Video
Doctors and nurses are imploring you to #StayHome to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here's why.

The numbers may be discouraging but it is not too late to make things right. The next month will be crucial. We must break the chain of transmission and stop the spread of Covid-19 .

If we succeed, we can, as Mr Wong says, take our foot off the pedal for a while. If we do not succeed, we risk a total lockdown.

No stepping out of the house for anything, not even to buy food. And far worse than that, more people will die.

So please, just stay home.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: S'pore, please, just stay home - the circuit breaker works only if we all do. Subscribe