The lifting of the circuit breaker measures tomorrow marks a happy occasion on Singapore’s pandemic calendar. But that happiness would be misplaced were people to believe that the lifting signals that all is well and good. This clearly is not the case because Covid-19 continues to be a feared reality in Singapore and globally. Indeed, one crucial factor is the possibility of a second wave of infections once global lockdowns are lifted. The challenge is to balance the pressing economic need to get businesses to resume with the persisting social need to prevent the pandemic from re-emerging as a massive public health threat that could overwhelm a country’s medical capacities.
Singapore has adopted a calibrated approach to winding down the special circuit breaker measures imposed to control the spread of the disease. The end of the circuit breaker will initiate phase one, which will see about 75 per cent of the economy resuming operations. Thereafter, the authorities will continue to monitor the situation, particularly over the first two weeks of June. A decision will be taken in the middle of the month on whether conditions are right for Singapore to allow a broader range of activities by the end of the month. Phase two will entail the resumption of these additional activities. That is also when, hopefully, almost the entire economy can be expected to reopen. Retail shops and consumer services can resume business, but masks will still be compulsory for anyone stepping outside the home. Eateries can reopen but no more than five diners will be allowed per table at food and beverage outlets, including hawker centres. Tables will have to be placed at least 1m apart. Social gatherings will be capped at five per group. The number strikes a reasonable balance between the risks involved and allowing families to meet.
Some might find these requirements onerous, but only because they would be comparing the continuing regulations with the state of normalcy that prevailed before the onset of Covid-19. That benchmark is not a realistic one. The circuit breaker was a contingent response to the appearance of a life-changing pandemic that attacked lives and livelihoods simultaneously. Now that the medical threat is receding, it is time to embark on the long journey out of the economic fallout. However, economic normalcy will not be a reversion to an earlier state of affairs, but an attempt to make the most of a new normal.
Singaporeans must appreciate the fragility of a gradual recovery from the global coronaviral attack. Within the country, every step that can be taken must be made to ensure that there is no epidemiological setback to the economic reopening. The lessons of social distancing and habitual vigilance learnt during the circuit breaker need to be extended to the phases that follow. The recent past is a harbinger of the near and new future.