News analysis

Time to bring consideration and kindness to the fore amid coronavirus outbreak

The streets of Singapore were increasingly empty at the weekend as safe distancing measures came into play and many heeded the Government's advice to stay home and venture out only for essential needs.

Malls, attractions and various public venues have implemented safe distancing measures such as limiting customer numbers and placing markers on the ground to help people keep 1m apart. These establishments have had to put the measures in place since last Friday, or risk facing penalties if they are later found to have been a place of transmission for the coronavirus.

Last Saturday, the Government reminded the public to stay home if possible and go out only for essential needs.

As with all change, not everything went smoothly.

For those trying to buy groceries online, delivery slots were not easy to obtain. And some found it impossible to avoid close contact at markets and on public transport.

Add to that the disruptive nature of the Covid-19 outbreak in general and it is no wonder that some are complaining about the measures.

Some have even wondered why Singapore has not adopted the lockdowns practised elsewhere, in the hope that after a few weeks of everyone staying at home, the outbreak might be brought under control.

Safe distancing measures are not unique to Singapore. Countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have also implemented various safe distancing rules. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Sunday that public gatherings should not exceed two people, and Australians should go out only when necessary. He also asked those over 70 to self-isolate.

In Singapore, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said last week that introducing stringent safe distancing measures will help slow the transmission of the virus, prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, and help bring the number of cases down and protect seniors.

There will be bumps along the way. A check with various online grocery shopping services yesterday afternoon, including RedMart, FairPrice and Cold Storage, showed all current available delivery slots had been taken up. Not only has there been a sharp rise in orders, but these services have had to cope with supply chain disruptions and manpower issues.

A Dairy Farm spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday that its Cold Storage and Giant teams are now working round the clock to keep their websites stable and fulfil all pending orders to the best of their ability.

Taxi and private-hire car drivers have now been tapped to help make grocery and food deliveries. It will take time, but steps are being taken to address consumer needs.

 JASON QUAH
A Skechers store employee taking the temperature of shoppers at VivoCity mall last Saturday. Malls and various public venues have implemented safe distancing measures to help slow the transmission of the virus. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Some organisations are also introducing staggered work hours or allowing staff to work from home to reduce congestion on public transport, while schools will conduct e-learning one day a week.

This calibrated approach is the preferred strategy for now, as the authorities do not think a full lockdown, as seen elsewhere, is necessary at this stage of the outbreak, although they have said it might become so at some point down the road.

 
 
 

While the Government has made it clear that people should remain home where possible, shoppers are still free to head out for necessities. People can still go to work or school or meet their families as needed. So best to make the most of it while you can.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to adhere to safe distancing measures within malls and public areas but stand alongside other commuters on the trains, any form of cutting down on close contact with a wider majority of people will help towards slowing down the spread.

It is through personal responsibility and care that we can maintain the freedom we have now to head out to buy groceries if needed. And each of us buying responsibly will also mean that more people, including the elderly and the vulnerable, will be able to get their hands on enough food and daily necessities.

Rather than resort to panic or selfish behaviour, this time of uncertainty and troubling change calls for a different perspective from all of us - one of patience, consideration, resilience and kindness.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2020, with the headline 'Time to bring consideration and kindness to the fore'. Print Edition | Subscribe