A Report from Singapore

March 5, 2020 11:53 a.m.

Here’s a very interesting report from TPM Reader TR in Singapore. Singapore has been in this for weeks. They have what seems to be a semi-contained outbreak – 117 cases as of today but no dramatic growth in the last week or so. TR describes a period of pretty intense public panic followed by a new equilibrium of acceptance of on-going risk but people returning to something like normal, along with all of the social distancing procedures we’re hearing about.

I found the updates on the perspectives, risks and the “Eerie Silence” from Covid19 to be very interesting to follow. As a TPM prime subscriber of an American living in Singapore I thought I could share a few perspectives of how we have been dealing being a top 5 Covid19 country for the past month. Singapore is a small city state that on a per capita basis has been at the top of the list of countries dealing with Covid19. In early February, I think the fear around Covid19 was really sinking in. Flights from China were cancelled, grocery stores were emptied by people stocking up for the apocalypse, shopping malls were empty, restaurants were empty and companies were implementing travel bans and splitting up working teams. By the end of February, the Covid19 outbreak continues – we still get new cases every day. But the fear has subsided. I think everyone is still afraid of it, but it is perceived a bit more as a flu plus plus. It has become one of those risks in life we just have to live with. Grocery stores are back to normal, shopping malls are full, restaurants are full again. Another anecdote – on the MRT (our Subway), at the start of Feb, it was typical to see the train cars only half full and more than 50% of those people were wearing face mask. Now, even though we get new cases every day, I look around and in a full train car of 100s of people, I only see 2 or 3 masks.

I think you received some blowback when you published some statistics to put things in perspective. It’s a tricky balance, but I think those perspectives are realistic and will sink in over time. It is not that Covid19 isn’t dangerous – it is a terrible development. But the flu data is pretty astounding if you really wanted to focus on it. Every year 300k to 600k people around the world die of the seasonal flu. The US CDC reports that there are over 20mn cases of flue this season alone (season starts in October) with 19 thousand deaths. I just read on the CDC website that 20 infants died last week from the seasonal flu. If Covid19 killed 20 babies last week we would all be horrified, but there are some risks in life we just get used to. I’m sure if we looked up traffic accidents and other stats that it would be pretty obvious that even if the Covid19 outbreak becomes as large as what happened in China, the average American is still more at risk of dying from driving home from work than from Covid19. If Singapore is anything to go by, the acceptance happened surprisingly quickly and within a month we are getting back to normal even though the outbreak continues.

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