Updated: May 22, 2021
We’re back. In Phase 2.
If you thought Covid-19 was on its way out the door (so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye) you thought wrong.
It feels like 2020 all over again. As a country, we seem to be taking these measures in our stride with some sense of dogged familiarity.
How are you feeling - physically, emotionally, spiritually?
When Phase 2 kicked in last year, I recognised the building fatigue in my body: it was trying to tell me something. I’ve been managing a slipped disc in my lower back that usefully cramps up during periods of stress. The prolonged pain was a clear sign that I needed to rest and reset myself in a few areas of life. I got down to reading, reflecting, and reframing the impact of the pandemic. Channelling my occupational habit of playing out alternate futures, I imagined this crisis unfolding in a few ways, regardless of what happens on the medical front.
1) The pandemic is a mutating global threat that demands an evolving global response. We can’t talk about flattening the curve or herd immunity until Covid-19 and its variants are effectively and evenly tackled everywhere within a specific timeframe. We can’t go it alone, no matter how hermetically sealed off we think we can be. Which led me to seriously consider that, 2) we may never fully eradicate Covid-19, given the current uncoordinated international response. Instead, we may have to live with more/less fatal but equally debilitating variants of the coronavirus as it mutates and infects vaccinated and unvaccinated people at different times in different parts of the world. And if the pandemic draws on indefinitely, 3) our society will oscillate between periods of locking down and periods of opening up. If this cycle becomes the new normal, Phase 2.2 is the latest opportunity to practice optimising what we learnt from Phase 2.1 and testing out new ways of reorganising the way we live, work, study, and play. People have already started doing this. Off the top of my head:
Open source directories of beloved hawkers and causes were rapidly compiled and shared from the ground up during the circuit breaker; these have started circulating again with a vengeance.
With enough lead time for adjustments, working and studying from home has become possible, even preferable in some situations; many have not been back to the office in months.
More people are getting habituated with shopping online for goods and services: from food to furniture, and home massages to pet acupuncture.
What if we took this last thread to its logical conclusion and planned for the eventual obsolescence of conventional retail? I wonder if we could slowly convert retail spaces into private/public housing and alleviate the urgent need for migrant workers to complete housing projects. The same could be planned for office spaces if working from home became de rigeur.
Speaking of migrant workers, with travel restrictions and intensifying labour shortages anticipated in the near future, perhaps we can explore an alternate form of National Service, one where enlistees from both sexes who have come of age can volunteer instead to be trained and deployed across Singapore as skilled construction operatives. Over their 2 to 2.5 year enlistment period, they would be deployed on public housing construction projects and take an active role in literally building the nation (and maybe even their own future homes).
Does any of this sound far-fetched or fantastical? Perhaps. Could any of this happen in the next five years? Unlikely. Nevertheless, I found this thought exercise surprisingly liberating. Engaging in the ‘what ifs’ - of applying the fallout from one crisis to alleviate the pressures from others - helps me notice the hidden/wasted opportunities lying in plain sight.
What could you do differently in Phase 2.2?