When is a Circuit Breaker not a Circuit Breaker?

I drafted this blogpost on Friday 28th May. I didn’t publish it then for fear of the Singapore Government analysing every word typed and finding a reason to investigate whether I had unwittingly broken any rules or laws. That’s the fear they have created in expats. The fear of being deported for inadvertently saying something wrong publicly. Free speech has died when this happens. Whether I have or have not inadvertently broken any rules or laws writing this blogpost, the fact that I didn’t want to publish it until I left the country for fear that I had, speaks volumes. How sad that such a beautiful city is marred by the lack of free speech and the acceptance of it.

When is a circuit breaker not a circuit breaker?

There was an air of inevitability that ‘something’ would be done about the sudden surge in Covid-19 cases in the community. Singapore had virtually no cases at all for months and suddenly there was a resurgence. It’s not entirely clear where the cases have emerged from but there are clusters from Changi airport and the Indian variant has entered Singapore.

On Friday 14th May Gov.sg announced “As of 12pm, MOH has preliminarily confirmed 24 new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 infection. Based on investigations so far, the cases are in the community, and there are no new cases in the dormitories. There are 28 imported cases, who had already been placed on Stay-Home Notice upon arrival in Singapore. In total, there are 52 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore today. MOH will share further updates in its press release that will be issued later tonight.”

The cases had been rising each day and there was some uneasiness about what was going to happen. At 10.25pm that night Gov.sg announced the following:

“Further SMMs from 16 May – 13 Jun
➡️ Max 2 persons for social gatherings, up to 2 gatherings/day
➡️ Max 2 unique visitors per household/day
🏠 Grandchildren cared for by grandparents daily exempted from limit

💼 WFH default for employees able to do so

❌ F&B dining-in, wedding receptions not allowed

For solemnisations and worship services: Max 100 pax; PET required if >50 pax

⚰️ Max 20 pax at funerals at any point in time

➡️ Antigen Rapid Testing will accompany existing PCR tests for swifter detection

💪 Let’s all play our part
➡️ See a doctor early if unwell, even if vaccinated or with mild symptoms
➡️ Do not rush to supermarkets/malls, SG has adequate supply of food & essentials”

Back a step to Phase 2 with heightened measures in place for another month. Happy weekend everyone from the Singapore Government! Back a stage after we had come so far and the end was in sight. It was so deflating. Would this “lockdown” never end? Restricted activities for over a year. Being unable to meet in large groups for barbecues and drinks for over a year. No bars open for over a year. And now we were going back a step. It was just so upsetting.

There was lots of confusion. How were parents supposed to take young children to school for example? A mum carrying a baby couldn’t take a toddler to nursery under these rules. What about taking children and the elderly to the Drs or hospital? Other young children simply could not be left alone at home – then there would be an accusation of neglect etc. Could families travel together in a taxi or was it just one person plus the driver? Personally it immediately ended my weekly walks with a friend who carried her baby with us as that would make three people, which seemed ridiculous.

We had a hotel booking at Marina Bay Sands to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary and we were taking our daughter along – she was going to be at school during the day anyway but could join us in the evenings. I immediately contacted them to see if this was still able to go ahead – clearly a lot of other people were trying to do the same. It took a very long time on hold for my call to be picked up and when it was answered the customer service agent had no idea whether the booking could proceed as she hadn’t been updated by management and suggested I contacted them again the next day. Not reassuring and nor appealing as I had spent so much time on hold already. I emailed them and asked for confirmation as soon as they had been updated.

I was gutted. I had planned this staycation for some time. We needed the break as well as the celebration – after 3 family deaths in a year had taken its toll on us all, and the thought of not being able to go was just about to tip me over the edge. It was just another knock back to deal with along with all the others on top of the pandemic. This gilded cage we had been in for over a year was starting to feel more like a cage than gilded. I was totally fed up.

There was a lot of alarm and confusion that evening as people turned to WhatsApp groups and other social media forums trying to decipher how they could comply with such a stringent ruling – but wasn’t actually another lockdown or ‘Circuit Breaker’ as they are called in Singapore. It was also just depressing. We had come so far and now we were going backwards. There was seemingly no end in sight, despite the vaccine roll out.

At 3.25pm the next day Gov.sg issued some clarifications and guidance on the new rules, clearly responding to citizens concerns about how they could comply. The update on Saturday 15th May stated:

“Clarifications on group size
➡️ Social gathering group sizes will be reduced from 5 to 2 pax from 16 May

➡️ Some flexibility for family members who need to move in bigger groups (>2 pax), especially those with young children or elderly parents
➡️ e.g. to go for medical appts, attend classes, go to work in same vehicle

➡️ People from different households who use public amenities (e.g. playgrounds) should keep to groups of 2

✅ Sports SMMs
➡️ Max 2 pax for group activities, physical activities of social nature

Organised indoor/outdoor classes:
➡️ Masks on at all times for low intensity activities
➡️ Groups of 2, up to 30 pax
↔️ 3m safe distancing btwn groups, no inter-mingling

🏃‍♀️ High-intensity outdoor activities where masks have to be removed: max 2 pax, including coach”

The clarification was helpful but hardly reassuring. What does “some flexibility” mean exactly and who was interpreting the flexibility? The Safe Distance Ambassadors or the individuals or the police or the Government? With the risk of fines, jail, and for foreigners, deportation, this was not very reassuring.

The updated case figures were released at 7.45pm on the evening of Saturday 15th May by Gov.sg:

“As of 12pm, MOH has preliminarily confirmed 19 new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 infection. Based on investigations so far, the cases are in the community, and there are no new cases in the dormitories. There are 12 imported cases, who had already been placed on Stay-Home Notice upon arrival in Singapore. All were identified through testing while they were in SHN facilities. In total, there are 31 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore today. MOH will share further updates in its press release that will be issued later tonight.

No need to rush to buy groceries/essentials
🍽️ F&B takeaways & deliveries still available
👜 All retail outlets & supermarkets will remain open
➡️ SG has adequate supply of food & essentials
➡️ Buy only what you need”

Clearly the announcement had caused another wave of panic buying and hoarding – indeed photos were circulating on WhatsApp groups of the queues in supermarkets and the trolleys piled with essentials. It wasn’t just me who thought this looked like another lockdown / circuit breaker then – clearly so did a significant number of other people. As indeed did our complex security who decided that we could not play catch in the pool as a family of three before the rules were even implemented and when we disputed the rule with him, he came back with a video camera around his neck and started videoing us in the pool. In swimwear. With our 14 year old daughter, in swimwear. We objected to him videoing a child in swimwear in the pool just to provide evidence of him insisting we stop playing catch as a family of three before the rules came into force. He carried on videoing and taking no responsibility at all stated that he had been told to do so by complex management.

As an aside, I have serious concerns about the legality of that, never mind the morality of it. Who is allowed to view the footage? What are the security measures in storing the footage? How long is it going to be kept for? Why can children (or any other person for that matter) in swimwear be videoed? What measures are in place to ensure that only those authorised can view the footage? What measures are in place to ensure the footage isn’t shared? All questions I won’t get answered, because I wont ask them as a foreigner, because the normal response from a local is that if you don’t like it you can just leave. The risk of deportation prevents raising any issues with the authorities – the hassle simply isn’t worth it. It just leaves me feeling powerless to do anything when I want to protect my daughter. It’s a real conflict.

Anyway back to the impending lockdown / circuit breaker that wasn’t actually. Another update was issued by Gov.sg on 16 May:

“As of 12pm, MOH has preliminarily confirmed 38 new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 infection. Amongst them, 13 had already been placed on quarantine earlier. Based on investigations so far, the cases are in the community, and there are no new cases in the dormitories. There are 11 imported cases, who had already been placed on Stay-Home Notice or isolated upon arrival in Singapore. In total, there are 49 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore today. MOH will share further updates in its press release that will be issued later tonight.

Vaccination protects you from COVID-19
➡️ Significantly reduces chances of infection; prevents severe illness if infected
➡️ Get vaccinated early when it is offered to you

See a doctor early if unwell, even if vaccinated or with mild symptoms”

At 10.53pm on 16th May Gov.sg issued another update:

“👩‍🏫👨‍🏫 Full Home-Based Learning from 19 May – 28 May
⁃ HBL for all Pri, Sec, JC, Millennia Institute, Special Education school students
⁃ Pre-school, student care centres remain open to support parents who need to work
⁃ Parents encouraged to keep children at home, where possible
⁃ Those without alternative care arrangements can approach schools for assistance
⁃ Mid-year GCE O- and A-Level Mother Tongue language exams will proceed, with SMMs

🏫 IHLs

  • Attendance on campus to be reduced, more online learning where possible

📚 Tuition and enrichment centres
⁃ Activities to shift online to reduce inter-mingling”

Our daughter was devastated. She only had a few days left of school to say goodbye to all her friends. It was likely that she would never see them again in person before we left Singapore. Sending a message like that at so late on a Sunday night was unhelpful in manging emotions of children. Yes there is a need to get information out as soon as possible but there seemed to be a complete lack of forethought on how that would be received by the children who it affected the most. Mental and emotional health taking a back seat.

This decision was also going to affect our staycation, which had now been confirmed with restrictions. She would now be with us home schooling from the hotel. The hotel said we could be together in the room but at all times outside the room we had to separate into two groups to comply with the new rules. How this is supposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 I will never know – it doesn’t make any sense at all to separate a family of 3 outside when they are together all the time inside. And yes, those social media warriors are quick to point out that everyone should just stay at home – but this isn’t supposed to be a circuit breaker is it? This is “enhanced measures” and we are allowed to go out in twos and go shopping – retail outlets and malls are still open as were many attractions operating at reduced capacity. All restaurants and Hawkers were closed again for dining in and takeaway and delivery only available everywhere (again scuppering our Wedding Anniversary meal plans). So yes we could stay at home if it was actually a Circuit Breaker – but it wasn’t and it’s important to get out of the home for mental health more than anything else.

The next update was just before 7pm on 17th May:

“As of 12pm, MOH has preliminarily confirmed 21 new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 infection. Amongst them, 6 had already been placed on quarantine earlier. Based on investigations so far, the cases are in the community, and there are no new cases in the dormitories. There are 7 imported cases, who had already been placed on Stay-Home Notice upon arrival in Singapore. All were identified through testing while they were in SHN facilities. In total, there are 28 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore today. MOH will share further updates in its press release that will be issued later tonight.”

Then just after 7:15pm on 18th May:

“As of 12pm, MOH has preliminarily confirmed 27 new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 infection. Amongst them, 14 had already been placed on quarantine earlier. Based on investigations so far, the cases are in the community, and there are no new cases in the dormitories. There are 11 imported cases, who had already been placed on Stay-Home Notice upon arrival in Singapore. All were identified through testing while they were in SHN facilities. In total, there are 38 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore today. MOH will share further updates in its press release that will be issued later tonight.”

Just before 11:15pm on Tuesday 18th May there was an update on vaccines:

“COVID-19 Vaccination

Those aged 40 – 44 can register from 19 May
➡️ At vaccine.gov.sg; SMS will be sent to make appt

➡️ Gap between doses extended to 6-8 weeks, so more can be vaccinated

👦👩For those aged 12 – 15
➡️ HSA has authorised use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
➡️ MOE, MOH will provide updates

🏠 Home vaccination for homebound persons
➡️ If not contacted, register with home care service provider or call MOH at 1800-333-9999

😷Updated Guidance for Mask Use
➡️ Use masks with good filtration efficiency for better protection
➡️ e.g. surgical masks, reusable masks ≥ 2 layers, those issued by PA, Temasek Foundation
➡️ More guidelines on masks will be issued

Let’s all do our part
🏡 Stay home, leave only for essential activities
🙅‍♂️ Pls do not rush to stock up on essentials 🙅‍♀️”


The next alert was just after 7:45pm on 19th May:

“As of 12pm, MOH has preliminarily confirmed 34 new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 infection. Amongst them, 28 had already been placed on quarantine earlier. Based on investigations so far, the cases are in the community, and there are no new cases in the dormitories. There are 4 imported cases, who had already been placed on Stay-Home Notice upon arrival in Singapore. All were identified through testing while they were in SHN facilities. In total, there are 38 new cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore today. MOH will share further updates in its press release that will be issued later tonight.

go.gov.sg/moh190521update

➡️ Vaccination for those aged 40-44

  • Register at vaccine.gov.sg
  • SMS will then be sent to book appointments”

Only updates on the numbers of cases was published and no further guidance was issued (at the date this blog was drafted). As usual though, the comments on social media about foreigners has turned unkind again. Every society has its bigots and they do like to announce themselves in public – especially on Straights Times articles on Facebook. It’s like reading the comments on a UK Daily Mail article. Some judge everyone by the actions of one or two individuals they know or have read about in the media. Judging entire communities by the actions of one person or a group of people. It’s so frustrating and trying to educate people by explaining things usually leads to the dismissive, one response fits all, comment of “leave Singapore if you don’t like it”.

[Well, we did. We left the beautiful city state that is Singapore on 4th July and flew home. We haven’t been home to see family and friends since 2018. It was time to go and said goodbye to this wonderful island and our friends.]

So to answer the question that I started with: When is a Circuit Breaker not a Circuit Breaker? When it’s ” Phase 2 heightened measures”. One of the FAQs on the MOH website is why is a Circuit Breaker not being implemented?

“We are anxious to bring the infection under control so that we can all go back to some sort of a normal life. But we are far from the conditions before Circuit Breaker last year. Compared with last year, unlinked cases are not many, we have high testing capacity, 30% of population has been fully vaccinated, and we have Trace Together. We are mindful the Phase 2 heightened measures have impacted many businesses, and the Government is committed to supporting them through this difficult time. Circuit Breaker is not a decision we should take lightly. We believe these latest sets of measures are already very stringent and will be able to arrest the latest spike in cases and bring the infection under control. As mentioned by the MTF Co-chairs earlier, we will review the situation in two weeks and introduce more or dial back the measures accordingly. If conditions require it, we will not hesitate to take decisive actions.” https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/faq

Sensational Singapore is becoming super cautious and looking inward instead of outward. Only time will tell what impact that has on Singapore’s standing on the world stage. One thing is certain, the anti foreigner sentiment is growing, and the continued border closures will mean more expats will continue to leave to be reunited with families they haven’t seen for over a year. That’s never a good look for a country that likes to be viewed as open for business to the rest of the world.

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