Updated: Jul 6
By Zenia Pang
In hindsight, a decade heralded by mother nature’s wrath and cavalier politics should have been a glaring red flag, but we always were an optimistic lot. At the end of 2019, we welcomed with desperate anticipation what we thought was the start of a great new era. We breathed in excitement, expelling it in ambitious new year's resolutions. Then 2020 crashed into our lives, ablaze with raging wildfires and armed with threats of a Third World War, poised to deliver the biggest gift of all: a pandemic.
COVID-19 has changed many things: our homes, our routines, and for some even relationship statuses. In the past 2 months of Circuit Breaker, our highs centred on the colour of PM Lee’s tie and his magical language-switching cup, our lows the crippling disappointment when the stores ran out of toilet rolls and all-purpose flour. Normality gleamed like a teasing mirage at the end of an ever-elongating tunnel.
Phase 2 is finally here, but it seems like somewhere along the line, normal has changed too. Last year, public transport was almost second nature. Tap, squeeze, tap, and you’re there. Today, we’re dashing home not for the forgotten wallet, but for the forgotten mask. We calculate not the last possible second we can leave the house, but the least popular route. We check our bags not for Kleenex wipes, but for that trusty little bottle of hand sanitiser. It was a frustrating start, but we’re getting the hang of things.
That COVID-19 has ravaged our commute routines is not shocking. What is truly disconcerting is how deep down, we’re all still yearning for the ‘old’ normal. If we could turn back time, we’d cherish the peak hour crush, the delayed trains, the morning jams. But this dream seems laughably out of reach, and it’s time to make peace with the past. The hard truth is this: the coronavirus will stalk societies until a vaccine is found, because unlike its cousin SARS, this virus appears determined to stay.
The possibility of an endemic COVID-19 is a harrowing reckoning: a fear-tinged future where uncertainty lurks in gleeful anarchy, an end nowhere in sight. But in fear we can usually find courage - unrefined and unremarkable, yet possessed of the grit to stare change down. Facing the tangible impacts of COVID-19 on our daily lives can be daunting. We might have had 2 months to get used to the new measures, but the start of Phase 2 has thrown these differences into sharp relief. Learning to understand the reasons behind the new advisories go a long way in placating the mind, and makes social responsibility an intrinsic quality.
Since the country entered Circuit Breaker, experts have been planning exit strategies to get the economy moving in tandem with the current restrictions. An often-asked question is whether a vaccine can be ready soon. The short answer: probably not. Vaccinations take notoriously long to develop. In an ideal scenario, a vaccine will only be ready in 1-1.5 years. Professor Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh told the BBC that waiting for a vaccine should not be considered an exit strategy. Another option being bandied about is that of herd immunity. But this too may take years to build up, on top of the obvious increase in cases that are required to achieve this to begin with. In a twisted tale of taking one for the team, hoping for herd immunity raises the question of how many lives we are willing to sacrifice - and more importantly, who ends up making these sacrifices. Alas, it seems the dreaded ‘new normal’ is here to stay after all.
And so while we fumbled around finding our masks and getting our cameras to scan the SafeEntry QR code, the society we used to know has been fading away. This may seem scary, but here's a food for thought: the human race has suffered through many pandemics throughout history, yet we're still here. The grass may not look greener on our side right now, but that’s why we have fertiliser.
Zenia Pang is a fan of books, food, and happy endings. She is a writer for WiseOwl, and spends much of her time with coffee and The New York Times Crosswords. She loves laughing, and is very capable of talking the ears off a wall.