I am in Singapore. Home. It’s calm here.
The last time an widespread infectious disease gripped the nation was in 2003. I was still at classes, but the prospect of community transmission felt more uncertain then.
After an initial period of panic buying, my island city has settled into daily life. I wear a mask diligently when in crowds and on public transport. Medical supplies are available here.
These days, crowds don’t mean the same as they used to. A crowd might be a few groups of 3–4 people, dutifully keeping their distance. I passed through what used to be the busiest passage in Chinatown yesterday on the way to the train station. Shops were open, but it was silent without the usual throng of tourists and hawkers, colourful trinkets still hanging in abundance on shelves. I’m worried that this will become the new normal.
At the same time, my adopted home of Australia is panicking without end, buying up supplies and endangering the vulnerable with irresponsible behaviour. It seems that everyone is worried for themselves and has forgotten to care for others. With this there is licence to blame and abuse obvious but maligned culprits. As long as we can find the cause for our problems, it makes it easier to justify bad behaviour. After the summer of hell, people are understandably fed-up. However, bushfire victims are still homeless and now they’re left with fewer essentials.
I went to my friend Medha’s home last Sunday. Within her space the threat of an infectious virus felt far away. A group of people in their thirties, we spoke candidly about life, compared the national situations in Australia and Singapore, and concluded we were all very lucky as long as we continued to practise good hygiene and social distancing.
Were it that we were more aware our actions affect one another, more so than we realise, we might begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
With fingers crossed, I plan to return to Australia next week and straight into a two week self-isolation period with my husband and dog. Ari the dog is fine for now; she’s having the time of her life at a pet resort while we are away. I have to admit I’m not looking forward to heading back from my hometown that feels like a safe haven. My obligations, however, are business as usual.
But is it really business as usual, after all? The motivations for panic are to maintain a semblance of normalcy. Perhaps it is better to acknowledge the incoming crises and be better informed, than to stock up on months of toilet paper. A sinking feeling tells me it will be different. The bigger question is if we have all learned for the better from this.