A year after Singapore reported its first COVID-19 case, CNA examines how the pandemic has changed the country.
23 Jan 2021 06:00AM(Updated: 23 Jan 2021 06:10AM)
SINGAPORE: It may seem like a lifetime to some, but it was precisely a year ago that Singapore reported its first COVID-19 case.
On Jan 23, 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said it had confirmed one imported case of "novel coronavirus" infection in Singapore. At that point, the virus didn't have a name.
The case was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family a few days before.
The ripple effect from that first case has been powerful, with changes to the country’s working lifestyle, economy, social fabric and healthcare sector. Some of those changes will be transient, with things going back to the way they were once the pandemic is over.
But the impact of COVID-19 has been so great that some aspects of Singapore's daily life have been changed forever.
In the days after the first case in Singapore, there was little sign of the impact that was coming. Everyday life went on with little worry.
But about two weeks later, ministers announced that Singapore would go into Disease Outbreak Response System Condition Orange and restrictions were introduced.
By April, there were many clusters, including the first few in migrant workers’ dormitories. The country went into isolation, with a “circuit breaker” and strict rules on gatherings.
Singapore became quiet: Busy hawker centres were open only for takeaways, non-essential shops were shuttered, and offices were closed as working from home became the new normal. Travelling abroad became a massive challenge, with countries imposing restrictions on visitors to protect themselves from imported cases.
Even as Singapore saw community case numbers dip significantly in June, and the country began its reopening, there was still uncertainty about the coronavirus, its mutations and how the relaxing of restrictions would affect the country.
Beyond the day-to-day challenges, conversations about bigger, longer-term issues began to emerge in Singapore. Is working from home the future? Will people keep their job? Will Singapore go into a recession? What about Singapore's migrant workers? Can our healthcare sector cope? What next?
WHO NEEDS AN OFFICE?
Remember when going into the office every day was the norm? Experts have long argued about the benefits of working from home – before COVID-19, it was viewed as a luxury and revolutionary.
That revolution came quickly with the onset of the pandemic, but it was not always luxurious. Arguments can be made for and against telecommuting when it comes to work-life balance, with some celebrating time saved on commuting but others feeling the strain of working in a cramped environment with little separation between work and personal life.
Nonetheless, some companies have already said that even when the pandemic is brought under control, they will continue with remote working.
That means deeper changes to working lives as employers work out how to get the best out of their staff when they're sitting at home with associated distractions such as bored kids or noisy neighbours.
Singapore Management University's (SMU) Professor Paulin Straughan said working from home is not just about physical relocation: “It is a whole new transformation of organisational culture, it changes the way we work and the way we account for KPIs (key performance indicators).”
But this is “really dependent” on the employers – some require workers to log in to video chats at regular interviews for “face time”, while others are happy to let their employees take charge of their own time.
One of the biggest changes to the way telecommuting is done is via video chats. Shares of Zoom soared as millions started using the video conferencing platform during lockdowns.
Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Associate Professor Andy Ho said: “I think being able to meet on Zoom is actually not a bad thing, in a way that you can make sure that people actually are punctual. It's hard to be late on a Zoom meeting, you're home already, where else can you be?”
But it is “very different” from meeting in person – there is less brainstorming, and it can be more of a hindrance than a help, he added. “When everybody is together physically, it is easy to have a creative, dynamic session, whereas in a Zoom meeting, you really can’t speak over one another.”