Reasonable or restrictive? Singaporeans react to new Covid-19 rules ahead of CNY

Hair salon owner Elsa Lim (in black and white top) and her family during a Chinese New Year gathering in 2016. She says that this year, instead of physical visits, they would make do with phone or Zoom calls. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ELSA LIM

SINGAPORE - Every Chinese New Year, the terraced house in Bukit Timah that Ms Lynn Heng, 52, shares with her extended family would be filled with laughter and sounds from at least 50 relatives.

"The air-con would be on full power and people would be spilling out of the rooms," she said.

This Chinese New Year will be very different because of the Covid-19 measures in place to minimise contact between people and lower the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

The multi-ministry task force announced on Friday that up to eight unique visitors would be allowed per household each day, and individuals were advised to visit a maximum of two households daily.

This scuppered the festive plans of many Chinese families, some of whom had been planning to have a roster with time slots for relatives to stop by for visits, as earlier restrictions had only limited it to eight visitors at any one time.

Reactions from more than a dozen Singaporeans that The Sunday Times spoke to on the new rules have been mixed.

Some welcomed the added restrictions, which they felt were necessary as community cases continue to be picked up, while others lamented the missed opportunity to catch up with more relatives.

And many are still figuring out what the new rules mean, and how they will be able to still mark the occasion without flouting the measures.

"I think everyone looks forward to coming to visit every year, so there is some disappointment," said Ms Heng, a housewife. She and her husband live with her parents-in-law, aged 94 and 77, and two daughters, aged 25 and 23.

But she welcomed the new restrictions. "It makes a lot of sense to disallow big groups during this time, though I have my reservations about whether people will obey the rules," she said.

"We'll just have a more muted CNY celebration. For those of us like me who prefer quieter CNYs, this is more welcome," she added.

While accepting the rules has been easy for Ms Heng, her in-laws have been slow to process them and are disappointed that they will not be able to see everyone on the first day of Chinese New Year this year.

"We talked about it on Friday night and my mother-in-law was quite shocked that only eight would be able to come per day," said Ms Heng.

"From the perspective of my 94-year-old father-in-law, who is half blind and totally deaf, every chance to meet his relatives once a year at CNY is something he cherishes. Being so old, every chance to see them is precious."

Mr Christopher Goh, 36, who works in banking, said he found the new limits reasonable.

"Some people were intending to visit in groups of eight, but every two hours. That would be many exposures per day. The worst thing is to go back to phase one where everything was closed," he said.

"Suck it up, do the right thing this year. Hopefully next CNY, you can visit in groups of 888 if you want," he added.

Mr Ang Jia Wei, 31, shared similar sentiments.

Singapore is still in the midst of a pandemic, he said, adding that "some people still cannot be trusted to visit the doctor when they come down with symptoms".

But the older ones would be quite disappointed as the limit of eight is "quite restrictive" for those with bigger families, said Mr Ang, who is married and works in education. He suggested that employers be more flexible and allow people to choose to take their days off on other days instead of on the public holidays, so that visits can be spread out.

On the other hand, accountant Benjamin Kee, 28, found the new measures too restrictive. He and his wife are celebrating their first CNY together as a married couple.

"In the light of these new restrictions, we might as well hold our CNY gathering on the MRT since there aren't any apparent limits on the number of persons who can gather there," he said.

His wife, Ms Cheryl Giam, 28, a counsellor, said she was sad she would not get to visit as much. However, she added: "On the bright side, this also means less headache on hongbao giving."

Working out the logistics of visiting relatives with the new rules will also take some doing, said Ms Elsa Lim, 55, who owns a hair salon.

Ms Lim and her relatives had set up a group chat where they had "booked" one-hour time slots for visits, but with the new restrictions they will have to readjust.

"Maybe my family and I will need to carry out visits until CNY day 15. Or instead of physical visits, we will just do a phone or Zoom call," she said.

Life coach Liu Yuantai, 36, who used to host his former schoolmates at his home, also said he might explore virtual alternatives, as some are wary about physical visits amid the pandemic, with their young children.

The centrepiece of this year's Chinatown CNY light-up, located opposite Chinatown Point, is a golden ox surrounded by gold coins and ingots, with a water wheel next to it representing the flow of wealth and fortune. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Switching to e-hongbao has also been a topic of discussion, as this reduces physical contact and risk of transmission. But not everyone is on board.

Mr Ang said he and his wife will defer to the preferences of their hongbao recipients.

"Generally, I think we will probably stick to physical ones for older members of the family because it likely means more to them that way, and e-hongbao for younger folk for whom the physical packet doesn't mean as much as the cash inside," he added.

Ms Lim is not a fan of the switch either, considering the circumstances. "As it is, we won't be able to do much visiting this year. With physical red packets, at least there is still one CNY tradition we can carry out," she added.

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