In a national broadcast on Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined the contours of a new normal in which Singaporeans will have to live – a world that has been battered and reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic. The strategy being adopted is to test the population, trace the spread of infections, and vaccinate people extensively and more quickly. These moves will protect more people through inoculation, test citizens vigorously all the same and ring-fence those infected so that any spread can be contained swiftly. For the immediate future, if the situation here continues to improve, Singapore could be on track to relax measures imposed for the current phase of heightened alert, after June 13.
But beyond any possible easing of restrictions, the reality for residents is to accept that Covid-19 will, in all likelihood, be endemic in society here and in every other part of the world that Singapore is connected to. The virus will continue to circulate in shifting segments of the global population for years to come, causing outbreaks in Singapore from time to time too. In such a new normal, hopes lie not in the total eradication of the virus, but in the counter-balancing steps that governments, markets, societies and individuals take to manage the disease and how it would impact the functioning of the economy and society. Singaporeans, like others, will have to learn to carry on with daily activities and routines, perhaps with annual booster shots to keep the severest impact of the virus at bay. Covid-19 and its variants may not be eliminated, but that should not stop life and enterprise from carrying on.
In practical terms, getting used to the new normal will mean internalising and institutionalising the protocols for navigating the Covidean world. Many feel nostalgic about 2019, when they could move around without masks; when gatherings trumped social distancing; travel, leisure and entertainment were not curtailed; and vaccinations usually applied to the flu. Much of that can still happen. But it means getting used to a new situation of regular testing, faster tracing, being disciplined and staying at home if individuals or someone they know is ill.
It requires event organisers, establishments and malls, among others, to take steps to reassess their operations and processes so that patrons, visitors and staff can work and play in safety. Individuals would also do well to
remember rituals for defensive living in their everyday interactions with friends, neighbours and strangers alike. In the same spirit, companies need to act like families would, and aim to keep their staff safe, including by enabling them to work from home as far as is feasible. These reflexes should become instinctive. This way, if the next Covid-19 variant or another pandemic strikes, Singaporeans would be more than prepared to respond and deal with it.