I'm in Singapore, and we just started to shut down on Monday because of the coronavirus. Here's how life has changed over the past 4 weeks.


Today is the third day of home quarantine in Singapore.

For the past four weeks in Singapore, my social interactions were a mix of FaceTime calls with overseas friends, dinners at the family dining table, and going out with local friends. At home, I would call my friends from all over the world - Barcelona, Israel, New York, Amsterdam, London, Kenya - to check in and say hi when I needed a break from working at my desk. Most of our conversations revolved around how they were dealing with their home quarantines as well as their experiences as their respective countries shut down, businesses closed, and they could no longer see their partners.
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One thing that surprised each of them was when I would mention the state of normalcy in Singapore. "You know, Singapore's actually not on lockdown," I would tell them. "I know it's weird, but people still go shopping and restaurants are packed."

"How is it possible?!" they would always ask, incredulous.

My answer to this was a combination of what I'd read in the news and what I'd learned from talking to friends who are doctors in Singapore. I would mention that Singapore was badly hit back in January with the highest number of coronavirus cases outside of China, which meant we were forced to start our fight against the virus early.

The Singapore government published the home addresses of all confirmed cases, as well as where they work and the places they had visited. It then carried out contact tracing and home quarantining of all close contacts. By keeping people who might have been exposed to the virus under quarantine, the rest of Singapore was allowed to carry on with their daily lives relatively safely. Here's a look at how my life in Singapore has changed as a second wave of the coronavirus has hit and the government has implemented new measures.

March 20: Social distancing measures are tightened, but restaurants are still open

When the government tightened safe distancing measures on March 20, cinemas reduced operating capacity. Hawker centers, fast food chains, and restaurants started to put crosses on every alternate seat, so that patrons would be seated a meter apart. At this point, for example, I still would have been able to get sushi at a restaurant if I wanted to - I just had to sit a meter away from the next person. It was, by most measures, not prohibitive.

I refrained from eating out anyway, just in case. The crowds were often too unnerving. While working on another story, I called the spokesperson for the Ministry of Health.

"How is it that we have not shut down when so many other countries have, and what are we doing about asymptomatic cases?" I asked.

"We're not like other countries," I was told. The person speaking told me that Singapore does have measures to keep us safe, like social distancing measures.

I'd often have to recalibrate, reassure myself: "Keshia, it's okay. It's safe to be outside. Just keep one meter away."

In the United States, a safe distance is a minimum of six feet apart. In Singapore, our "safe distance" is about half of that, or 3.28 feet (one meter).

April 3: The government announces a 'circuit breaker'

On the evening of Friday, April 3, the government announced what they called a "circuit breaker" in a style similar to the partial lockdown seen in other countries. While grocery stores, provision shops, public transportation, and essential healthcare services would continue to operate, non-essential services would close from April 7 to May 5. Food and beverage outlets would continue to function but only for takeout orders.

Schools would also close on April 8 for four weeks, the equivalent of two incubation periods of Covid-19. This was when we finally understood: Singapore was moving towards a lockdown.

Over the weekend, members of my family went grocery shopping, repaired items, and restocked on supplies. I went to do an exchange of an item I had bought and stocked up on pens and papers. I walked through some shopping malls, keeping my distance from people and wearing a mask. It was the last weekend of seeing people out for a month, and I wanted to savor the sight and sound of socialization.

April 6: A change to my morning routine

On Monday, April 6th, I got my morning coffee from the coffee shop opposite my house for the last time.

The "uncle" who makes my coffee told me, "I got terminated. I won't see you tomorrow. They'll only sell food now. They don't want to sell coffee anymore."

April 7: Home quarantine in Singapore begins

Tuesday, April 7th, is the first day of home quarantine in Singapore. We are not allowed to go out except for essential activities, such as to care for an elder or a young child, or to get food and beverages. For the first time, I get my morning coffee to go.

In the evenings, I continue to go on my daily run. I live in the Northeast of Singapore along the trail that connects to Coney Island. While the quarantine has shut down most public spaces, parks and public pathways still remain open, and recreational activities such as running are allowed as long as you go about it alone or with a member of your household. It's one of the last few things you can do outside for fun.

Singapore coronavirus quarantine

On my way to Coney Island, I record an Instagram story of the waves lapping against the rocks, another of the supermoon peeking above the treeline and reflecting into the dark waters at nighttime. A friend from Poland, who has been quarantined for almost a month now, writes back on Instagram, "Thanks for reminding us what the nature is like."

After my run, I manage to buy some water at the NTUC [supermarket] along the way, and then head home. I text a friend in South Africa, "Just got home but hold on, I'm going to walk my dog."

He responds, "Here we're not allowed to leave our homes or walk our dogs!"

I wonder if Singapore will come to that. For now, I'm grateful that it hasn't.
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