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Singaporean came home from UK and penned heartfelt post about her experience from Changi to NCID

By March 31, 2020Current

TL;DR – Life is not just about staying alive, it’s about being able to live life. And the Singapore government is trying its darndest to maintain a normal life for all of us.

I am typing this over lunch on a working Tuesday. Everything feels normal, except that it’s not. I’m working from home in my PJs when I should be in the office downtown.

We’ve been battling the coronavirus for weeks now, and the issue is now beyond China, beyond just us. It’s a worldwide pandemic and while China appears to, more or less, have it under control as they reopened Wuhan’s doors, other parts of the world like Europe and the US have just started their fight with COVID-19.

The numbers are quite scary now. But I think what we do not know, of countries that are still not carrying out extensive enough tests, is even scarier. It’s such an infectious monster, this one. At last check just now, there have been about 800,000 cases worldwide and over 37,000 deaths. Singapore has 879 cases and three deaths as at 30 March (Mon).

While Singapore has managed to flatten the curve more effectively than most other countries, the fight is far, far from over. PM Lee, in his last few media appearances, has been consistent in reminding us of that. And Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan wants us to be eternally vigilant. It will take months (if we’re lucky) for the virus to end its run around the world and perhaps by then, herd immunity might have happened. Or hopefully, a vaccine or treatment or both would have surfaced. The economic recovery is going to be just as, if not more, painful.

But, life is not just about staying alive. It’s more about being able to live life.

It’s like what is described in this Forbes article,

“In many ways, life in Singapore right now is far more normal (albeit far from totally normal) than in many parts of the world. Australia, the United States, U.K. and Europe. Yes we need to stay home as much as we can, but people are still going out and life is still being lived in this urban city-state of 5.6 million people.”

And we’re able to do this because of the brave, decisive and agile leadership we have.

Look around you, some countries are in lockdown or have varying degrees of movement restriction or control.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I really appreciate that the Government is doing their darndest to help us lead as normal a life as possible, given the circumstances. Do not, for a minute, think that this comes easily. It is much, much easier administratively to just have a lockdown and restrict our movement. But the consequences are huge.

Besides, I don’t see the countries with lockdown or movement control order (MCO) having a better grip on the COVID-19 situation. I just hear of stories of people not heeding the MCO and read of countries extending the lockdown.

PM Lee is spot on when he said this in his CNN interview,

“I think the key thing is people must understand what we are facing and must support what we are doing, cooperate with us, and have confidence in the government. We put a lot of effort into explaining to them what is happening, speaking to them and I have done it a few times directly on television, so people know that we are level and we tell it straight.

We are transparent – if there is bad news, we tell you. If there are things which need to be done, we also tell you. I think that you have to maintain that trust because if people do not trust you, even if you have the right measures, it is going to be very hard to get it implemented.”

Now, back to talking about life.

I am super thankful we are still able to pop by the local food centres to takeaway a meal. Some people are still going for their evening run (not in groups, please!) Of course, we should all stay home as much as possible, especially the older and the vulnerable. But if you absolutely have to go out, observe safe distancing.

Updated @10:00PM: Stricter guidelines have been released this evening to get more employers to allow staff to work from home and also for people to stay at home since the number of local and unlinked cases has been worrying. Other than at work, we should all play our part. Social distancing measures can save lives. So people, please stop all your social activities for now as these social gatherings have proven to be a main means by which the virus is spread. This includes house parties hor.

I am also thankful that the Government is aware of the pain some Singaporeans are going through. Especially those in the aviation, hospitality and travel-related businesses, and yes, also the freelancers and self-employed people as well, including our taxi and Grab drivers.

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The Unity Budget, together with the substantially bigger Resilience Budget, put together some $55 billion to save lives and livelihoods. In fact, PM Lee has said that a third of the supplementary budget ($48 billion) goes directly  into wage support.

Yes, like what DPM Heng who’s also our Finance Minister said,

“The best way to support our people is by helping them stay employed.”

To ensure that employers are able to continue keeping their workers employed, the Government is allocating $15.1 billion to the Jobs Support Scheme. The Government will co-fund wages of at least 25% for all local workers. Additional support will be directed to the hardest hit sectors. Businesses in food services will receive 50% wage co-funding, while aviation and tourism will get 75%.

Yes, this whole-of-Government approach towards combating COVID-19 is about saving lives and livelihoods. And like I said, it’s more than just keeping us alive, but to actually let us live our lives.

Talking about saving lives and livelihoods, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been hard at work bringing overseas Singaporeans home. One of them, Lingxi Too, has just returned from Manchester, UK and she has taken to Facebook to share her experience from right after she touched down at Changi Airport.

It’s a wonderfully heartwarming piece where she walked us through her journey of how she made a last-minute decision to come home, what greeted her at Changi Airport and how she felt in such warm and safe hands form touch-down. Longish piece, but definitely worth spending a few minutes of your time to read it!

And thanks, Lingxi, for allowing us to republish your post! Stay safe and update lots!

Hi Little Red Dot (Singapore), you have been missed…

I have arrived back into Singapore yesterday after making a last-minute decision to fly back home from the UK.

To SG friends and family who have been very concerned about me, thank you for all your love and concern, I am touched! To my friends in the UK, I haven’t disappeared all of a sudden.

Sorry I haven’t had the time to reply to all of you as it has been a little crazy the past few weeks/ days.

I just thought I will share here so that you guys can have a gist of what has been going on.

[Pre return]

Deciding to return to Singapore at this point was a tough one. I was urged and encouraged by friends and the Singapore embassy to return as soon as possible. I was feeling quite torn because I have signed up to help my teammates in the NHS who are fighting this Covid battle. Leaving now felt like I was abandoning the team. Unfortunately, it was taking a while to get us (medical students) activated. I thought rather than waiting around, I should take the last available flight out of Manchester back to SG or I might not get to see family for a while. In any case, I can always contribute back home.

I was also hesitant to return because I know upon returning, it would mean having to serve the 2 weeks mandatory Stay Home Notice (SHN i.e. no contact self-isolation) at a designated hotel. This is a requirement expected of all returning residents from the UK and US as it has been shown sadly, in past weeks ~ 70% of the new COVID cases in SG are imported from these 2 countries (the UK especially). The SG government has very kindly and generously funded our stay with all food and laundry provided in a move to prevent us from passing anything on to family members and to inject money back into the economy. I thought this is such a brilliant move in times where businesses are hard hit.

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I didn’t know what to expect from this hotel stay but the thought of 2 weeks being in a confined space (a hotel room ) just scares me. The alternative would be Boris’s chillax lockdown where I can still go down to throw my rubbish😂 (a luxury now), get out to get essentials from the shops and also a once a day exercise. With mixed feelings, I told myself it can’t be that bad. I decided to return to Singapore.

[Arrival]

This arrival back into Singapore was a little unusual. When we landed, we were greeted by 20-30 Cisco staff. We were grouped into different sitting areas to make sure there was social distancing. Each had a member of staff attending to us who took our temperature followed by filling in a declaration form and a briefing on where we would be staying. Everyone who could go to the hotel, was given a green sticker. At that point, I just thought to myself, “I am home, this is Singapore’s efficiency.”

For me, I didn’t have a green sticker, I had to proceed for further checks by the immigration doctors. Within 20 minutes of landing, I was escorted for the checks and referred to get tested at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). Light snacks and drinks were provided while waiting for the ambulance.

[At NCID and getting tested]

No pictures were allowed here! Everything happened like clockwork. Everyone was in proper PPE from head to toe. There were well-demarcated zones, 50 tables spaced apart in the air-conditioned room and roughly the same number of staff. The place was almost at full capacity but each staff knew their own roles like they have done this many times before. Cleaners, nurses, doctors, radiology nurses. I was guided through to a table to be clerked and assessed. WITHIN 35 minutes of being there, I had my obs taken, clerked by a nurse had an electronic name tag on my arm, had a chest X-ray, a urine test, clerked by a doctor, a Covid nose swab taken(yes it is uncomfortable), medication prescribed, had lunch, snack and water served to me and discharged. I was impressed by the organisation but while I was there, I noticed something else.

The staff looked overworked – The doctors where clerking patients one after another (5 minutes each patient ?) My doctor was stood on one leg while clerking and rotated his other ankle to soothe his foot. This is a sign which is all so familiar to me as I did that when I had long shifts. One nurse had to have her mask and goggles adjusted and sweat wiped and I could see the imprint of the mask and googles outline left on her face. The cleaners too have been working tirelessly cleaning the tables and chairs after each patient.

[I’ll share more on the hotel accommodation in another post]

[Personal reflection]

>NCID is busier than ever and Health workers are working really hard.

As I left the NCID screening centre to proceed to the hotel, I saw a similar set up of tables outside of the air-conditioned centre. I suspect the area is to be used when the centre is full. At the moment, staff are already working very hard and the screening room is already almost packed. I can’t imagine staff working in an aircon setting in full PPE ( gloves, goggles, gowns, masks) for the whole day let alone working outside in the sweltering heat.

S’pore woman documents her journey in NCID, has “mad respect” & faith in Singapore’s medical team

>SG government is doing its best to protect us

What I saw on my way home was a little sobering and emotional. Never have I seen Changi airport so empty and never have I seen so many staff dedicated to one task- bringing citizens home. The world’s best airport does look like it is on a standstill right now and the government has made this decision to protect us- cherish this effort, we are lucky.

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>On self-isolation, lockdown, and social distancing

Every country implements these in their own way. And I respect that. It is necessary to constantly tailor and change advice to the public based on each country’s needs and trends in this crisis. For Singapore, a SHN is stricter than a lockdown in the UK because we are a small country with a high-density population. It is difficult for high-risk residents to keep their social distance if we were to be allowed to run errands. I was mentally prepared if I had to serve my SHN at my parents’, I would definitely not leave my room for the 2 weeks. I love them too much to want to risk passing anything to them. I think Boris should step up his game with the lockdown, people especially in London, are still traveling loads. My building manager in London just asked me if I wanted to get the maintenance people into my flat to do non-essential works. Do they not get what a lockdown down is? It sure feels just like a normal day for them.

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>On keeping normality in our lives

The Singapore government has tried its very best to maintain a normal life for all of us by making such a concerted effort with contact tracing. A lot of work goes behind the scene to selectively keep high-risk people at home (as of 25th May, 38,000 have a stay home notice i.e. self-isolation). This is a sign that the government is still trying to keep things under control. I hope that we can all cherish this bit of freedom that we have responsibly because it would not be in our favour in every sense to be in lockdown. And it would also be very embarrassing to need to activate the army/ police to get us to cooperate. We can do this.

>On not repeating the mistakes

I have seen how things unfolded in the UK and it has led to so many unnecessary pressures to the healthcare system and distress to the workers. Families have lost loved ones. People are dying by the hundreds. It is heart-wrenching and I really don’t want to see the same happening to Singapore. Let’s not make doctors decide who to save and whose lives are more precious. Let’s all be socially responsible and civic-minded citizens. And listen to the government, they have our best interest at heart- it’s washing your hands/personal hygiene + social distancing+ stay at home.

I never thought this arrival back and what I have seen so far would have left me feeling so emotional. But I am. As a tiny nation Singapore, I am very impressed that you have managed to accomplish things beyond your size and are still striving so hard to tackle this crisis to protect your citizens. Like we have learnt as kids during social studies class, we may not have natural resources but we have human resource. In the words of Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, “This crisis is an acid test of every single country’s quality of healthcare, standard of governance and social capital. If any one of this tripod is weak, it will be exposed, and exposed quite unmercifully by this epidemic.” This may be a marathon we have to go through but we have each other and we need to pull through this as a nation. We are prepared and we can do this.

Singapore, I am so truly proud to have you as home. Today, I feel safe and at ease to have arrived back.

Looking forward to contributing if I’m tested negative after these 14 days SHN!

To my colleagues in UK, I am rooting for you. You guys are doing a great job! 👏🏻👍🏻

 

(Featured image via)

 

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Maggie O

Author Maggie O

Digital extrovert. Social introvert (warning: 93% introverted!) In the day, I work to put cai-png on the table and ice-cream in the fridge. In the night, I read a lot and write a little. Also, all views expressed in my contribution pieces here are based on my personal opinions, and they do not reflect the ideas, ideologies, or points of view of my employer (past, current and future).

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