One thing that unites all Singaporeans, regardless of colour or creed, is a healthy fear of the law. That's the main reason why I reach for a face mask before I step out of the house. Fear of the law, judgement on social media and also to prevent infection.
But etiquette steps in where the law leaves off. For example, it isn't legally forbidden to fart in an office meeting room. But you just don't do it, because that would be bad manners. Etiquette and the law exist to stop us all from killing each other, and maintain what we refer to as civilisation.
The question is, even if you're not legally required to do so, would you take a Covid test before meeting up with friends?
Now according to the Ministry of Health's (MOH) rules, Pre-Event Testing (PET) is required for a number of activities and certain settings, as they are deemed higher-risk due to factors like close contact.
But while vaccines do a great job of preventing serious illness, hospitalisations and death from Covid, and everyone in my circle of friends is fully vaccinated, there is still the possibility that one may have an asymptomatic infection.
And if that's the case, there's the possibility that you may then pass it on to someone else.
So we've decided that before we meet, we'll each take an Antigen Rapid Test (ART).
If one line we see, to meet up we are free
If two lines appear, isolation is here
It wasn't any big deal, and we didn't have a serious discussion about it. Someone just suggested it, we thought it was a good idea, and rolled with it.
Near the start of this godforsaken pandemic, rapid home tests were rather expensive.
But now you can buy one for around S$5 to S$6, at shops like Guardian.
Other countries have tried to inculcate a similar rule of thumb.
Back in Dec. 2021 in Wales, the local government advised people to "flow before you go", as the rapid tests are more commonly known as "lateral flow tests" in the UK.
They were encouraged to test themselves before going shopping or going to a party, or any crowded or busy place, in order to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.
If they tested positive, they should isolate at home and arrange for a more expensive yet more accurate PCR test.
Why do it?
Testing before meeting friends just seems like the right thing to do. All it takes is 15 minutes and some ticklish nostrils for collective peace of mind.
And thanks to the reduction in price, if we skip dessert, we can definitely afford to buy a rapid test each.
If you're going to spend extended time in the company of others, likely with masks off if we're having a meal, then the chances of everyone getting infected if one person is infected get higher.
Even if everyone in your immediate circle of friends is vaccinated, relatively young and in good health, what about their extended families? They may be living with old grandparents, young children, or immunocompromised people.
Imagine if you were infected, and unwittingly passed an infection to a friend, who then passed it on to his grandmother who had to go to hospital. A simple ART could have helped to prevent such guilt.
Choice and responsibility
The entire pandemic has been about weighing risks and making tough choices, from the government's level down to the individual.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that some tests had reduced sensitivity to the Omicron variant in a laboratory setting, National Institutes of Health scientists caution that their lab finding is not evidence of a significant drop in the real-world performance of popular at-home tests, even in the "worst case scenario."
So ARTs may not be entirely foolproof, but it's still very useful and the best we have, unless you happen to have access to a working laboratory at all times.
I could of course omit all social activities entirely, to reduce risk even further, but what toll would that take on my mental well-being? Smeagol the hobbit lived in complete isolation for many long years, and things didn't work out too well for him.
The compromise that we've reached in my circle of friends is to "test before guests". It's not perfect, but then what the hell is in the times we live in?
In unprecedented times, we should think about updating the rules of etiquette as well.
Top image by Sulaiman Daud.
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