Happy 56th National Day to all my fellow Singaporeans!
As we reflect on our country’s 56th birthday during these somber Covid-19 times, I thought that I should share my thoughts and wishes for our island nation with you, for what it’s worth.
My essay will be divided into four ‘P’s…
- Pandemic protection
- Personal and professional pivots
- Psychological well-being
- Planning for the next phase
Let us begin with the biggest elephant in the room.
With the world pummeled by the Coronavirus pandemic (now into its 4th and 5th variant), entire nations and economies have been torn asunder.
Millions of lives have been lost. Hundreds of millions have fallen ill — with many in critical condition. Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost globally, with entire industry sectors shuttered, livelihoods decimated, and economies ruptured.
Against this backdrop, governments around the world have responded in various ways to protect their citizens and residents while keeping their economies going. Some have done admirably well. Others, less so.
While we certainly have had our lapses — the latest of which were the KTV and Jurong Fishery Port sagas — what we’ve done is still a far cry from how many other nations have responded.
I’m immeasurably grateful for what our Ministers, public officers, volunteers, doctors, nurses, social distancing ambassadors and other frontline professionals have done.
The amount of hours they’ve spent managing this crisis, sacrificing personal time, and expending energy is uncountable.
(My mum was a nurse for most of her life, from 17 to 70, so I have a lot of empathy for our frontline healthcare professionals.)
We have one of the highest vaccination rates around the world, and probably the lowest death rates from Covid-19. Save for a couple of oddballs, the majority of our citizens and residents have been compliant. This helped us to keep our mortality rates and critically ill numbers (those requiring intubation and ventilators) low. Our hospitals are not straining from the number of Covid-19 patients, and our healthcare infrastructure has remained intact.
Right now, the best thing we can do is to be fully vaccinated (where possible, barring your physician’s advice), wear our masks whenever we’re out unless we’re dining or doing vigorous exercise, and follow safe management measures.
We’re still some way to go before achieving true Covid-19 resilience as a nation. However, with determination and steely resolve, I’m confident that we will get there.
Personal and Professional Pivots
This brings me to the next part on how we can live, work, play and study in this “new normal”.
Like many of you, I’m affected by the social distancing and safety restrictions imposed during this period. For a start, I hate to wear a face mask every time I leave my home.
Often, seemingly at the drop of a hat, we’re faced with new measures or revised measures — from groups of eight, to groups of five, to groups of two, to the cessation of dining in, and now, differentiated measures for the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Many of these measures have impacted certain industries more than others. Consumer-facing sectors like F&B, fitness and gyms, retail, entertainment, events, travel and tourism have faced the brunt of the safe management measures.
But look at it this way: these dynamic changes are made with the best interests of our people, especially in preventing our elderly and those with preconditions from succumbing to the disease.
It is impossible to satisfy everybody and every need. Some want stronger measures, with stricter border controls and even complete lockdowns. Others prefer a more relaxed Covid-19 regime, allowing more businesses to flourish unimpeded.
Individually, we have to make changes to the way we live. This may mean tapping on social technologies to communicate and connect with our friends, family members, colleagues, and customers. It may also mean working more independently from home, away from the office, while not isolating yourself completely from the world.
For business owners, it will entail embracing digital channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok to reach your customers.
It’ll also mean sharpening your websites so that potential customers can more easily find you on search engines, learn what you are all about, and purchase from you online.
Invest in building your online presence — be it in terms of time, energy or money. Sign up for courses, spend time trying things out, or engage suitable partners to strengthen your digital presence.
And if you’re unfortunate enough to have your livelihoods disrupted by Covid-19, I’ll advise you to use the time to learn something new and (more importantly) build your digital presence. I can’t emphasize how important this is during this time when people are spending more time than ever online.
One of the greatest challenges that has emerged over the past 20 months or so since Covid-19 is the rise in mental illness.
As a society, we need to eradicate the taboo of speaking about mental health, and be more open and transparent in talking about it.
We have seen how mental pressures have taken its toll on our people — from stressed-out youths in school, lonely elderly people, to the financially-strapped and unemployed.
My wish is for this topic to be more openly discussed and for counselling options to be readily available. We will need a lot more psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other professionals to treat the mental illnesses.
More importantly, we need to look out for those around us. Be ready to lend a listening ear to friends, family, and colleagues who may need someone to talk to. Extend a helping hand to those in need.
Looking out for each other also means not tearing each other down — especially on social media platforms where we’re shielded from the real-life impact of our remarks, comments and criticisms.
Parents, ease the pressure on your kids. There will be many paths to success in the new normal. Academic excellence might not be the only (or even the best) way forward.
I’ve also seen so many people going after each other’s throats on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and yes, even LinkedIn. These conflicts are unhealthy and do little to raise the level of digital discourse.
Rather than spend all your emotional and intellectual energies trying to prove a point, channel it to something more productive and positive. Let us eradicate cyberbullying of any kind.
And if the heat gets too much in the online world, turn off your mobile phone, leave it at home, and go for a long walk to cool off. Enjoy God’s green earth, and Singapore’s beautifully designed parks.
Planning for the Next Phase
This brings me to my last point on preparing for the road ahead.
Unlike prior years, the onset of Covid-19 as an ongoing “Black Swan” event has made it virtually impossible to plan long-term.
While we’d love to totally open up our skies and our economy, we must be mindful of controlling the influx of infected individuals from foreign sources.
At the same time, sewing up our borders isn’t feasible, considering that Singapore’s economy is largely built on its reputation as a trading nation.
I’m certain that many factors are considered by our Government in weighing the pros and cons of each step. However, while some of these decisions are driven by data, there will inevitably be moves that have unpredictable consequences.
What we can do as individuals is to respond proactively and positively to the evolving situation. Let us find ways to bake resilience into our lives and our livelihoods.
Plan to pick up sought-after skills in a digital-first world, venture outside your comfort zones to do something totally different, and review your spending patterns.
If money is right, review the need for frequent overseas holidays (travel is likely to be a lot more costly), go for less expensive meals, and seek pleasures in simple pleasures like going for a walk in the park, borrowing a good book to read from our excellent libraries, or just spending time playing board games with your loved ones.
Planning ahead may also mean joining hands with like-minded others to build something together. This can be a new business, a new charity, or an informal group dedicated to helping one another to withstand the tide.
Like many of you, my life has changed immeasurably since the pandemic in 2020 and now 2021.
Many of the things that we’ve previously taken for granted are now denied to us.
Similarly, the pandemic has brought forth new opportunities and markets for my business, and I’m thankful for that.
As we celebrate Singapore’s 56th birthday, I hope that all of us will take some time to ponder the 4 Ps, and what it means to live and work in this new era.