COVERING THE PANDEMIC

World News Day: Singapore like you've never seen before

Our executive editor Sumiko Tan took to the streets of Singapore to capture the uncanny quiet of a normally bustling city at the height of the partial lockdown in April. This was for a report to go with special drone footage of the city captured by our team from the ST Photo Desk. She recounts: In a city that has hit the pause button, it is the security officer you see the most often.

A section of the Pan-Island Expressway and Central Expressway in Toa Payoh on May 5 at 8.30am. With many working from home, the morning rush-hour jam has disappeared. ST FILE PHOTO
A section of the Pan-Island Expressway and Central Expressway in Toa Payoh on May 5 at 8.30am. With many working from home, the morning rush-hour jam has disappeared. ST FILE PHOTO

The crowds are gone but there he - or she - is, at an MRT station, ready to be of help.

You will spot him manning a desk at an office building in the now-deserted downtown.

Or sitting by the gate of a condominium where, in the units above, hundreds of people are at home serving out this Covid-19 circuit breaker period.

I, too, have been working from home since April 7. Save for a few runs to the supermarket and three trips to the office, I have stayed home.

My work days are marked by two daily virtual meetings. There is a structure, yet time has taken on a shapeless quality. Days drift. Is today Tuesday or Saturday?

An escape from the tedium comes when my colleagues Benjamin Seetor and Mark Cheong produce drone footage of Singapore under shutdown.

The view from the top is beautiful. Let me do a story to see what life on the ground is like, I volunteer.

I set off at 2pm on Wednesday, May 13, mask in place and hand sanitiser in my bag. I also have my media pass, just in case. (Journalism is an "essential service" after all.)

I am expecting to find Singapore under shutdown eerie. A country sapped of its soul. Sad. Desperate. Disaster movie.

What I find instead is something quite magical.​​

 
 
 

It is a Singapore I have never experienced before, a city of space and quiet and peace and previously undiscovered beauty.

And while the grass on pavements is overgrown, it strikes me that everywhere I go, it is cleaner than usual.

I stride across the wide, empty expanse of Ngee Ann City's Civic Plaza, wind in my hair, and know that this is a Singapore I will never experience again.

• Read the full report, which ran on May 15, online at https://str.sg/JAx6

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2020, with the headline 'Singapore like you've never seen before'. Subscribe