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COVID-19: Experiences in Singapore

by Thee Sim Ling, 13

The first I had heard about it was that it came from a fish market.

I didn’t make much of it then. I just thought it would be a great excuse to shut down schools. Not that e-learning (or Home-Based Learning, as we call it here) seemed like a fun prospect—I would have to spend an entire day staring at a computer screen with my ears crushed by bulky headphones. (Wait till you hear about my Physical Education classes.)

Never did I guess that in two months’ time, the World Health Organization would label COVID-19 as a pandemic.

When Singapore first received news about this, some people, including the government, became pretty worried. We’re a tiny, tiny city-state—5 million people packed into 721 square kilometers—so a coronavirus would find it a piece of cake to rampage through our country. We are pretty close to China, and a lot of Chinese tourists come here. Plus, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) had hurt our country pretty badly, and every grown-up shudders when they recall that horrific time.

Although the majority of our population is ethnically Chinese, you may be surprised to find out there is some anti-China sentiment around here.  Some of us started to avoid tourists from China, or anybody who was speaking in a Mainland China accent. We also started to avoid anybody from one of the big “clusters”: members of a church that had several cases of COVID-19 were ostracised at public spaces and their workplaces. We even started acting hostile to healthcare workers, the very people fighting this virus every day. It brought back bad memories about SARS, where such a thing also happened. (During that period, a nurse had written on social media about her neighbors closing their windows whenever she returned home for fear of “catching the virus”.) However, we’ve started to realize such behavior is wrong. Our family, our teachers, and the commentaries in the newspaper keep telling us this: the virus doesn’t discriminate. Anybody can get it. Anybody can spread it.

Most of us have been spurred to be kinder in these tough times. Placing hand sanitizers in the elevator of your apartment block; giving out free durians (yes, durians) to healthcare workers; celebrities coming together to sing songs of support and asking people to stay at home.  I’ve also written notes for healthcare workers at a local hospital and for the Singapore art community (after the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2020 was placed on hiatus).

We also started becoming more panicky. Nowadays the newspapers aren’t filled with stories about the Hong Kong democracy protests (like last year); instead, COVID-19 is dominating the headlines. We don’t use our fingers to press lift buttons anymore; we use our fingernails, our pens, our keys, anything that is not covered by the biggest organ of our body: our skin.

Then, on one particular Friday, a bombshell was dropped: schools and offices will close, and a one-month circuit breaker would begin. No more playdates, no more ball sports, no more library visits. Just one-month of social isolation (and being locked up in a house with your family).

I have mixed feelings about this circuit breaker (and HBL). For one, I can’t chat with my friends face-to-face, only through ungrammatical texts on my phone. It also means I have to exercise along to songs like Dance Monkey while my parents stare and try to hold back their laughter. Plus, with the whole country on the Internet, technical problems abound. Just this morning, my computer froze, and it took fifteen minutes to get it back online in time for lessons.

But I guess HBL has its advantages too. It forces us to carry out more self-learning and take initiative for our own learning. (Okay, maybe I stole that quote from one of my teachers…) However, with the stuck-at-home situation, we have more time to carry out our hobbies, like reading that book you’ve been dying to read, or (like me) carving out more time to write, because that luxury is not available on a hectic school day. We have more time to do a proper clean-up of our house, and spend time with our family, such as having a proper dinner together (with no mobile devices in sight).

COVID-19. To think that the first I had heard about it was that it came from a fish market.



Thee Sim Ling, 13

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