“The restrictions here are respected and if not, the Singaporean does not hesitate to denounce the other”, count to THE NATION Magdalena Guaia, a 30-year-old Argentine psychologist, who arrived six months ago in the small city-state with her partner, and spent the first 14 days isolated in a hotel where she complied with the quarantine imposed by the government for all those who enter. to the territory as a measure to prevent the leakage of the coronavirus.
The culture of vigilance, strict border control, clear and transparent communication, respect for regulations and exhaustive contact tracing have been elementary pillars in the government’s strategy to contain the spread of the virus., which has done so with great success, since last week Singapore displaced New Zealand as the best place to pass the pandemic, according to a classification of Bloomberg.
The Covid-19 resilience ranking of Bloomberg analyzes a wide range of data – from mortality rates and tests to access to vaccines and freedom of movement – to capture where the health crisis is being handled most effectively, with the least social and economic disruption.
“So far, the economic impact has not fallen on society, the government has financially supported those who have lost their jobs and has provided many other forms of livelihood for both individuals and companies (…) Leaving aside certain restrictions, policies permanent tracking and a very different culture to which you have to adapt, I could say that yes, you can lead a ‘normal’ life ”, adds Magdalena.
“We lead a super normal life, everything is open”agrees Florencia González Bonorino, a 32-year-old graphic designer who has lived in Singapore since 2018 and works at a Spanish institute.
Florence “totally agrees” with the classification made by Bloomberg and praised the effective response of the government and the behavior of society in the face of the health threat. “From the first minute everyone adopted the chinstrap. I was never afraid of catching it. I always trusted a lot in the measures that the government was taking and in how society was managed. Here there is a great culture of respect, social conscience and trust in the government. If you set a rule, people follow it ”, he explains to THE NATION.
Agustín Bastien, 29, who was in Singapore between January and April 2020 to pursue an MBA at Insead, agrees. “The politicians here are very prepared, they were based on science and they always demanded very logical things so the discussion was never political, it was a health issue,” he says.
In part, this obedience is accompanied by a strong surveillance culture that is widely installed in Singapore. In the first months of the pandemic the authorities mounted human contact tracker teams who worked with a combination of CCTV images, monitoring through phone calls and video calls and even police investigation tools to detect possible positive cases. Also, quickly launched a mobile application and distributed additional devices –TraceTogether Tokens– to identify the chains of infections among the population.
“The State has a very big role in terms of surveillance, especially with regard to tracking. We must all have an app on called ‘Track & Trace’ and we must record every place we go. If I go to the supermarket, at the door I have to scan a QR code and they take my temperature. The same in all bars, cinemas, restaurants and more. The government knows where you are, where you have been and with whom ”, says Magdalena.
“I know of some cases of expatriates who broke certain rules and the punishment was quite harsh; they had to pay tremendous fines and there were even cases of deportations, “says Florencia, for her part, while regretting that many times” it is the only way for people to respect the rules. “
The government has also opted to keep citizens well informed as part of its plan to attack the coronavirus. He wallpaper the city with posters about the care measures and created a WhatsApp broadcast list where people receive a daily share It describes the latest metrics of the pandemic, reports on new outbreaks and any changes in restrictions.
“In public transport, for example, there is a propaganda that says that you do not have to talk on the phone or with other people when you go on the subway. It is simply a recommendation, but it is a sign of the government’s constant reminder that you have to take care of yourself, because otherwise people forget how there are so few cases, ”says Florencia.
In recent days, the government has emphasized that “This is not the time to relax and lower your arms”, following a recent infectious focus of 35 cases linked to the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).
Although the health authorities immediately identified the positives and their close contacts and isolated them, it is the first time in months that community cases of nine different active sources have been detected (being TTSH the largest), so the government has decided to toughen measures.
The authorities announced today in a press conference the prohibition of meetings of more than five people, and groups larger than that number will have to work from home. The gyms will remain closed and limits have been placed on the number of participants at conferences, weddings and funerals. Travelers will have to quarantine for three weeks, instead of two as has been done.
The island nation of 5.7 million people has registered 61,235 infections and 31 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
“The next few weeks will be critical,” said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Although the measurements may seem exaggerated, Singapore learned from its experience with SARS in 2003 that a rapid response can be crucial to avoid a health disaster. “SARS was ultimately contained through syndromic surveillance, immediate isolation of patients, strict application of quarantine to all contacts and, in some areas, strict application of community quarantines,” explained Professor Annelies Wilder-Smith, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in an article published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Beyond recent restrictions, the majority of citizens in Singapore have enjoyed freedom of movement for most of the pandemic. Schools, for example, were a priority for the government so they remained partially or completely closed for 11 weeks in total, according to Unesco information.
However, the truth is that not everyone in Singapore has enjoyed the same freedoms, exposing persistent inequalities in the city-state. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are still mostly confined to their workplaces and bedrooms, after the massive outbreaks last year due to poor and unsanitary living conditions.
They have to ask their employers for permission if they want to get out of their bedrooms and, above all, socialize in government-approved recreation centers.
All of this is necessary to protect the rest of the country, as there is a “real and significant” risk of another outbreak in your community, the government has argued. The claim is not entirely false, since 47% of this community has been infected at some point in the pandemic. But it also underscores the bitter fact that for all its talk about equality, Singapore remains a deeply segregated society.
This is “shameful and discriminatory”, said to BBC Mundo migrant rights activist Jolovan Wham. “Because migrant workers lack political power, it somehow becomes socially acceptable for them to bear the brunt of our policy failures.
“New Zealand also leads the Covid Resilience list, but did not trample on people’s rights. It is not just about the result, but about the means to get there ”, added.