Don't panic: Singapore and the novel coronavirus

Issue 91

It’s pretty much all about the novel coronavirus—which is now officially a global health emergency—this week, with news articles and updates all over the place, so I’m going to try to do my best with a round-up of the Singapore situation. If I’ve missed anything, or if you would like to add something, feel free to comment! You can find the comment option by following the button below.

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The current situation

At the time of writing, there are 16 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Singapore, including one Singaporean who had been evacuated out of Wuhan.

What’s being done

From 29 January, those who’d been in Hubei within the past two weeks, or who have Chinese passports issued in Hubei, haven’t been allowed entry into, or transit through, Singapore. Yesterday, this restriction was further widened to all visitors who have recent travel history to mainland China.

The Ministry of Education has also ordered that all employees and students with recent travel to China (since 14 or 15 January) take a two-week leave of absence: up to 1,000 employees and students across schools, polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education have been placed on leave. Those who have travelled to Hubei might be issued further quarantine orders if considered to be of higher risk.

Quarantine areas—chalets, university dorms, and Outward Bound camps, for instance—have been designated, prepped, and set up. Some students in the dorms had to be hastily relocated so that the hostels at the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Management University could be prepared as quarantine zones.

I checked in with my friend Zakir, who’s working on a construction site, about measures for migrant workers. According to his own experience, as well as what he’s heard from workers at different sites, there are regular temperature screening exercises undertaken by each site’s safety team, and any workers who appear to be running a temperature are sent to the doctor/clinic.

Lots and lots of manpower is going to be needed for all the temperature screening to be done across the island.

Much ado about masking

I’ve looked in at a few pharmacies, supermarkets, and other shops, and they’re all out of masks (of the surgical variety, not the Korean beauty brand ones).

The government has issued letters to sellers who have taken advantage of the situation to sell masks at inflated prices, but have also appealed to people not to panic-buy and hoard masks.

While the Ministry of Health says that you only need a mask if you’re unwell (to prevent it spreading to others), some people are still uncertain, particularly since they’ve read that you might not have symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus for 14 days, but could still transmit the virus during that time. They thus point out that someone who might not be wearing a mask because they don’t think they’re unwell could potentially still have the virus and be spreading it around. (That there are conflicting messages from other governments can also add to the confusion.)

The thing is, though, that all this kerfuffle about masks don’t matter if people are stockpiling them but not using them properly. And if you’re not using a mask properly, you might be lulling yourself into a “false sense of security”, and you’ll also be just wasting masks because they’re doing nothing for you.

Here’s a graphic from the Ministry of Health about how to use a surgical mask correctly:

Starting today, the government will be distributing masks to all 1.37 million Singapore households—each household will get a pack of four. Some are praising the government for their response, others say it’s pointless since four masks per household aren’t really going to achieve much. Either way, spare a thought for those who have to do all the packing.

There’s no need to be a dick

I’ve already shared this in a previous issue, but going to pop it in again: here’s Race Tuition Centre on anti-Chinese racism. Also read this Facebook post by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib about what’s factual and what’s racist.

This virus is already bad enough and making enough people anxious and scared—not to mention the deaths that people are already grieving—without us making it worse by spreading vicious rumours, racism and xenophobia.

And the POFMA angle… (you knew there would be one)

With all the rumours swirling, POFMA has been invoked twice against Wuhan coronavirus-related content: one for claiming that someone had died (no one died), another for claiming that Woodlands MRT closed for virus-related reasons (the station was open and running fine).

The government has also temporarily lifted exemptions from general correction directions for Facebook, Twitter, Google Search, Baidu and HardwardZone, in the light of the virus. General correction directions required platforms to ensure that the government’s correction/clarification is seen by all end-users in Singapore. Questions that came to my mind: (1) if the initial exemption was because platforms needed time for technical/practical reasons to implement such a direction, how are they expected to do it now, and (2) if it wasn’t for the reason in #1, then why were there exemptions in the first place?

In other POFMA news, The Online Citizen is going to challenge its POFMA order in court. They point out that the court documents alone have cost them almost S$990. How many people would want to shell out that sort of money to challenge an order in court?


New on New Naratif

There have been indications from both the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army that they would be interested in a bilateral ceasefire deal. But while people, both Kachin and non-Kachin, are tired of the fighting, they aren’t very convinced that a ceasefire would truly hold. A lot more is going to need to be done to deal with the issue and build trust.

Indonesia has spoken out about human rights issues in Southeast Asia before. Human Rights Watch researchers Maya Wang and Andreas Harsono say the country can do more, and better, in speaking up for the Uyghurs and other Muslims in China.

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