That is what Singaporeans are when it comes to thoughts of their loved ones contracting Covid-19, compared to the thought of getting infected themselves.
This was one of the findings of an online TheHomeGround Asia survey carried out between 30 September and 11 October. The study polled 132 Singaporean respondents on their comfort levels when it came to the existing control measures using a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least comfortable and 5 being the most comfortable.
It was the stark divide in sentiments in response to the latest Covid-19 restrictions that prompted TheHomeGround Asia to investigate whether Singaporeans are truly ready to treat Covid-19 as endemic.
Following the latest restrictions that started on 27 Sep 2021, this @Wakeupsingapore’s post on Instagram sparked much social friction. While the post garnered almost 3,500 likes, many netizens voiced their disagreement over its chosen narrative.
“[…] These decisions are made after serious consideration to assist in reducing the current daily cases. It’s unfair that you are criticising the government on every move they make. […],” @methanoooool wrote, and and the comment itself received 638 likes and 40 follow-up comments.
Singaporeans still divided on endemic state
The survey found that slightly less than half (46 per cent) think the government has made the right move to retighten measures, while the majority (54 per cent) feel it should have moved forward after having decided to treat Covid-19 as endemic.
It has been 17 months since Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a nationwide Circuit Breaker, and only three months after Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said publicly that “200 cases a day may not be unusual” as the nation moves forward into treating the Covid-19 as endemic.
As such, a good 9,000 netizens have petitioned for Minister Ong to step down from his position as Health Minister in protest of his plan, making evident that the nation continues to be divided on whether the government should reintroduce partial lockdown measures or open the economy like what several countries in the West, such as Denmark and South Africa, had done.
During the period when the survey was carried out, a total of 70 deaths had been recorded in Singapore, and with a total population of around 5.9 million, the average chance of dying due to the coronavirus then was less than 0.00119 per cent.
Fitness instructor Ann Loh, who is in her 40s, believes that with 84 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated, “we should move on”. Furthermore, she highlights that according to the Ministry of Health (MOH), 98 per cent of local cases are asymptomatic or had mild symptoms.
But the situation has escalated slightly since the time of the survey. The nation’s death toll experienced a sudden steep climb, leaping from 70 on 23 Sept to 246 on 19 Oct, because of the record-high infection rates.
Are ‘nanny state’ and no-death approaches still sustainable?
In an interview with the Straits Times, Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, an infectious disease expert from the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that “severe illness and death will rise as measures ease, but aiming for no deaths means the constraints on society will be extremely high.”
Yoga trainer Tania Choh, 38, agrees. “In order for the economy to recover, we have to be responsible for our own lives. Working from home is sheltering the citizens, and we should be given the choice whether to stay home or leave, as every household’s situation differs,” she says. “No one should make this choice for us as this is our right.”
Dr Hsu told the Singapore daily newspaper that the nation can open up faster if it is willing to accept six or seven deaths a day as the new normal — about three times higher than that of the common flu.
“With vaccination rates rising and the end goal being an endemic approach, we would eventually have to start loosening the measures. A rise in cases while this happens is inevitable,” says Shruthi M Durai, a 23-year-old management associate — one of many respondents who have seemed to internalise the increasingly tangible risks of moving forward with the endemic state approach.
“With vaccinations at a relatively high rate and the roll-out of booster shots, lockdowns are now not regarded as a viable public health countermeasure to a worsening pandemic,” Dr Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University, tells TheHomeGround Asia.
“Lockdowns are more likely to be seen as a last-resort measure when all else fails,” he adds. However, he notes that the no-deaths approach, which was in play until about the middle of this year, remains influential in how people regard the measures they view as necessary.
Arts producer Tania Goh, who declines to give her age, believes that the heightened levels of fear in Singapore, compared to the ones overseas, can be attributed to the government taking a “nanny state” approach, as well as the way print, television and social media sites reported news on Covid-19.
“I was based overseas, and where I was, life went on as normal,” she says. “Here, Singaporeans are bombarded by the number of cases daily, and this sort of reporting doesn’t help. Nobody reports on the endemic dengue like this, as a comparison.”
Ms Goh believes that reporting has to change for people to start understanding that they’re going to have to “live with it”. She says reports on healthcare capacity, as well as educating people on natural immunity and staying fit, are much more productive for society’s mental and physical wellbeing.
More invested in loved ones’ well being than their own
When it comes to possibly getting infected by Covid-19, Singaporeans seem more fearful for their loved ones than for themselves, according to the survey. Similarly, they were 1.8 times more likely to worry about loved ones dying from Covid-19, than themselves.
Madam Edar Idris, a 41-year-old executive assistant in the real estate industry, is one such person. “We shouldn’t have moved forward with an endemic state yet, and should have stabilised the country first before opening up. Don’t treat citizens like rubbish just because you can’t wait to open up,” says Mdm Edar, who has children below the age of 12 as well as elderly parents.
Dr Tan finds this unsurprising. “Our perception of what needs to be done is often influenced and shaped by our sense of the public health threat not just to ourselves, but to our loved ones,” he says.
Those with vulnerable loved ones are more risk-averse
It seems, from the survey, that death toll and infection rates in the form of numbers are much less intimidating prospects, as opposed to the thought of one’s own loved ones being part of these statistics.
TheHomeGround Asia found that those with more vulnerable loved ones were significantly more likely to display risk aversion.
“Life still needs to go on,” says a respondent who has vaccinated children above the age of 12. “The heightened alerts will only cost more people their sanity due to income or job losses.”
Disagreeing, a freelance fitness trainer with elderly parents, says, “until we have a cure for Covid-19, it’s better to take extra precautions to curb the spread of the virus in the community, especially among the elderly and kids.”
With regards to the frequency of booster shots moving forward, almost half (46 per cent) would be most comfortable with yearly intervals, while the others remain divided.
Dr Tan believes that these contrasting views on the ground may be reconciled.
“The challenge is, perhaps, with arriving at a consensus on the infection numbers that we can live with. The need for the government to secure buy-in for their measures remains critical and will determine public perception of how well the government handled the pandemic when the pandemic is finally over,” he adds.
Excitement over travel bubbles, but Singaporeans still taking precautions
And on 9 Oct 2021, the government announced it will open vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) with countries such as South Korea, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, and the United States, allowing vaccinated residents of Singapore and those countries to travel to and from without quarantine.
This falls in line with some of the respondents’ sentiments, with almost 2 in 5 (38.5 per cent) indicating to TheHomeGround Asia that they would like for travel bubbles to be established with selected countries.
Since the announcement, many have flocked to the Singapore Airlines (SIA) service centre in Orchard Road while others have crashed airline websites in the rush for flights.
According to research conducted by Amadeus, a travel technology platform, 74 per cent of Singaporean travellers want to go abroad by next year. Singaporeans are focused on regional travel, whether for business or leisure — with both groups ranking Asia as the top destination for their trips.
The study was conducted on more than 9,000 consumers across France, Germany, India, Spain, Russia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Britain and the US, with at least 1,000 participants from each country.
Despite this, it seems just as many are refraining from letting their wanderlust make their decisions. They have adopted a wait-and-see approach as they hold back for more information before proceeding with their travel plans.
Amadeus’ research showed that the three main concerns that the Singaporean traveller has are fear of catching Covid-19 while travelling (54 per cent), self-isolation or quarantine before and after travel (44 per cent), and changing restrictions resulting in last-minute cancellations (41 per cent).
“As countries in Asia Pacific achieve higher vaccination rates, they are beginning to reopen their borders and restart international travel,” says Mr Jonathan Tong, Vice President of Airline Solutions & IT Sales, at Amadeus (Asia Pacific). “However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that for international travel to restart in a meaningful way, technology will need to play a central role.”
For example, biometric and contactless solutions can help reduce transmission of the virus, while digital health passes will help create a more seamless and stress-free experience for travellers, he says.