5 things people in S'pore can forget about now that most Covid-19 restrictions are gone

Have we truly reached the "new normal"?

Jane Zhang | April 29, 2022, 10:15 AM

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On Tuesday (Apr. 26), Singapore’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was adjusted to Yellow after more than two years at Orange.

Multi-Ministry Taskforce co-chair and Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said that everyone "must continue to comply with the safe management measures and exercise social responsibility".

Furthermore, the situation could change quickly if new variants arise, the Ministry of Health said, urging people to "remain socially responsible and vigilant even as we take strides towards normalcy".

For now, though, many restrictions — including group sizes for social gatherings, contact tracing mechanisms, and SafeEntry check-in — have been scrapped or stepped down.

This most recent relaxation of measures was the latest big move in a series of major shifts which resulted in essentially-open borders for fully-vaccinated travellers, optional mask-wearing outdoors, no more quarantine, and nearly no capacity limits for events.

If you’ve been out and about in the past few days since the loosening of measures, you’ve probably noticed that the Singapore you’re walking around in feels quite different from the one you were in just a few days prior.

Here are five things we thankfully don’t need to spend mental (and physical) energy on anymore.

1. Getting lost in malls because you can't find the entrance/exit

Imagine walking up to the entrance of a mall, mentally preparing for the satisfying feeling of the cool air conditioning hitting your body — which has somehow gotten unreasonably sweaty during the short walk from the bus stop to the mall — as soon as you step through the doors...

Just to discover that the entrance is barricaded with a fence and a sign directing you to another entrance on the opposite side of the mall.

For most of us in Singapore, we don’t have to use our imaginations too vigorously — this was a common reality over the past two years, as most malls closed off entrances in order to implement contact tracing only at specific doors.

And don’t even get me started on trying to find the exits of malls.

On more than one occasion, I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to decipher the signage at Jem and meandering my way to an exit, only to be met by — that’s right — a barricade.

A colleague once had to sprint to catch his Grab in time, as the exit near the Kallang Wave Mall taxi stand was blocked off and the next available exit was on the opposite end of the mall, near the entrance to Stadium MRT station.

Luckily, he was able to avoid paying extra charges, but his driver was not too pleased.

Well, thankfully, these things shouldn’t be an issue anymore now that SafeEntry check-ins via TraceTogether have been removed from most places.

For drivers out there, this also means it’ll be much easier to find a convenient parking space in carparks now that most lift lobbies are open and accessible again.

2. Scrambling to find your phone every time you have to check in

Speaking of TraceTogether check-ins being scrapped in most places, gone are the days when entering a building or hawker centre is a race against time to desperately check in before a line forms behind you.

On Tuesday morning, the first day of the relaxed restrictions, a friend texted saying:

“Wa something feels missing today. I don't have to flash my phone at an uncle before entering a building.”

While entering an ice cream shop on Tuesday night, I noticed the little SafeEntry QR code sticker (understandably) still stuck to the glass doorway.

I remarked victoriously to another friend that the sticker was no longer useful to us, but he, on the other hand, had instinctively pulled out his phone to check in before realising it was unnecessary.

It has been said that it takes repeating a behaviour 66 times for it to become a habit. Well, over the past two years, most of us have Safe-Entry checked-in far more than 66 times, so it’s understandable that doing so has become a subconscious habit.

In the days since this changed, it has indeed been a strange but freeing feeling to not need to quickly dig through my bag to pull out my phone, unlock it, scroll through pages of apps to find the TraceTogether app, pray for it to load faster, scan the QR code, and finally flash it successfully at the SafeEntry staff.

Much more convenient and efficient!

Plus, in this new, post-Apr. 26 reality, there’ll be no more being stuck outside of malls or hawker centres if your phone battery unfortunately dies.

3. Calculating whether you can invite someone to hang out depending on pax limit

Under DORSCON Yellow, there is no longer a cap on group sizes for social gatherings.

This means that you no longer have to worry about exceeding the maximum group size when deciding whether or not to invite someone to a gathering.

Of course, the flip side is that if you were someone who used “Oh, sorry! We have five pax already :( Let’s find another time to hang out instead!” as an excuse for not inviting someone to a hangout, that excuse is no longer available.

Now the bigger concern when organising group outings is:

  1. How do you find a time when everyone is actually available? (It was a lot easier when fewer people could meet at once.)
  2. With what seems like everyone going out on the town now, are there any reservations open?
  3. Does the restaurant you're going to even have tables big enough to seat your whole group together? Or, are you going to end up sitting at separate tables anyway?

4. Worrying about getting a Health-Risk Notice at an inopportune time

While contact tracing was an extremely crucial part of Singapore’s strategy against Covid-19, many people will know the sinking feeling of receiving a Quarantine Order, Health Risk Warning (HRW), or a Health Risk Notice, and realising that you would need to restructure all of your plans for the upcoming days.

On one occasion in September 2021, my boyfriend and I had just gotten seated at a dim sum restaurant with two friends when he received a text informing him that he had been issued a 10-day HRW due to “some risk of exposure to a Covid-19 case” eight days prior.

He had no choice but to immediately head home from our highly-anticipated brunch. I also went home right away, to play it extra safe.

After all, we figured, if he got a HRW, I would soon get one too, as we were together for the entire day when he was apparently exposed to Covid-19.

But in the end, I didn’t receive a HRW at all, and the remaining two days of the 10-day HRW period passed with neither of us contracting Covid-19.

Our amateur guess was that perhaps his HRW came from TraceTogether picking up that he was in the same public restroom as someone who later tested positive, despite them having little to no contact.

And while it was definitely better safe than sorry, it was a bummer to have to cancel and reschedule plans.

Well, those days are over since TraceTogether is being stepped down as a contact tracing tool and HRNs will no longer be issued.

Moving forward, it will be about personal responsibility. As Gan stated in the press conference:

"This means that if you are unwell, we should really stay home. We must also maintain good personal hygiene and adhere to health advisories."

For me, this includes monitoring my own health, testing myself after large gatherings, and alerting my friends if I feel ever just a little under the weather so that they can make an informed choice about whether to meet up or postpone.

5. Finding reasons to not have to wear a mask at work all the time

On Mar. 29, mask-wearing outdoors became optional. However, indoor mask-wearing remained mandatory.

Under DORSCON Yellow, masks are still required indoors, but at workplaces, unmasking is now allowed at the workplace as long as you are not physically interacting with others and not in customer-facing areas.

For me, this is a huge relief. While I have been relatively careful throughout the pandemic, I have to admit that sometimes sitting in the office with my mask on for the whole day could feel a bit stifling, not to mention hard on the ears.

With the new relaxed measures, I no longer need to keep taking small sips of water every 10 to 20 seconds in order to “justify” keeping my mask off for a bit while seated at my desk by myself.

On the bright side, my constant water drinking kept me well-hydrated.

Looking forward to the “new normal”

After more than two years of doing our part to tackle this pandemic, it feels good to finally feel like we’re reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.

We've heard about the “new normal” quite a lot since 2020, but for a long time, it didn’t seem like something we could truly fathom given the state of the world.

In his address to the nation on May 31, 2021, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said:

"In the new normal, Covid-19 will not dominate our lives.

Our people will be mostly vaccinated, and possibly taking booster shots every year.

We will get tested often, but it will be fast and easy. We will go to work or school, meet friends and family, participate in religious services, and enjoy entertainment and sports events.

We will re-open our borders safely, visitors will again come to Singapore. Singaporeans will travel again to countries where the disease is well under control, especially if we have been vaccinated.

And eventually we will even go about without masks again, at least outdoors.

Right now, we are some ways off from this happy state, but we are heading in the right direction."

11 months after PM Lee's speech, as we all breathe a sigh of relief and appreciate the freedom of relaxed restrictions, it finally (and cautiously) feels like we might be there.

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Top photo by Jane Zhang.