Written by: Beverly Tan (19-E3), Karenin Lee (20-A1), Zenov Liu (20-U1)
Designed by: Athena Lim (19-A4)
With the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide hitting 1 million in early April and all local schools to be closed until June, it does seem like we’re living in an apocalyptic fever dream. For most of us, COVID-19 is probably the first real crisis we faced so far. Just like you, we feel overwhelmed by the flurry of notifications from our news apps and the announcements of new regulations on television. But let’s take a moment to breathe and think about how we can learn from our circumstances and move on as an individual, a school, a state. Here are 5 lessons about COVID-19 that we think are worth sharing.
Lesson #1: Labels – why they matter
One of Donald Trump’s ‘Chinese Virus’ tweets (Source: Twitter)
The ‘Chinese Virus’, the ‘Kung-Flu’ or ‘Wuhan’ are some names that politicians, relatives and perhaps you have been using to describe COVID-19. As Romeo from Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ once asked, “What’s in a name?” You may be wondering why different labels of the virus matter because they all refer to the same virus, right? Well yes, but no. All these names point to the same virus but their connotations are unfavourable. For instance, Trump’s usage of the phrase ‘Chinese Virus’ erroneously plays into racist stereotypes, often implying that an entire country and race is to be blamed for the virus. Just like the ‘Chinese Virus’, terms like ‘Kung-Flu’ and ‘Wuhan Virus’ have similar connotations. Since February 1 2020, over 1,135 reports of hate crime-related incidents have been submitted in the US alone at an average of 100 reports a day, according to Next Shark, an Asian-American news site (NextShark and Admerasia., 2020). With a rise in the number of anti-Asian attacks in other parts of the world, labels have played an important role in influencing others’ perceptions of Asians by generating stereotypes about the Asian community that are linked to the virus. This would in turn create ‘hate culture’, which will give the false idea that people have the right to discriminate against the Chinese community or anyone who looks Chinese because they come from the country or continent the disease originated from.
Asian American leaders protesting against fear mongering and racism against Asian Americans in Massachusetts (source: VOX)
Although hate crimes against the Chinese are unlikely to happen in our Chinese majority country, this is still a lesson worth learning because the concept of labels and how they affect communities is largely relevant. Unfortunately, there is no way to completely eradicate the impacts labels have in fear mongering and discrimination against certain communities. However, we all have a role in ensuring that our actions do not validate cultural tropes that these labels propagate. Think twice and call out actions that stigmatise.
Written by Beverly Tan (19-E3)
Lesson #2: Manipulation by political leaders
The prudent action to take when facing a global epidemic like COVID-19 would be to unite forces with one another and come up with solutions to curb the spread of the disease. However, prominent world leaders like President Donald Trump of the United States of America beg to differ. In an attempt to divert attention away from his incapability to handle the current crisis, Trump has decided to halt funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO). His reason for doing so was because of the WHO’s perceived bias towards China, even though America is the single largest donor to the organisation (Singman, 2020). Therefore, the existence of a Chinese bias seems unlikely. According to a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, America’s decision to cease funding for the WHO will “weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation” (Singman, 2020). Indeed, the sudden lack of funding for the WHO has hampered global efforts towards researching for a cure. In our opinion, Trump’s idea to stop funding the WHO may have been motivated by potential personal gains in the 2020 US Presidential Election. Trump has shown a significant lack of ability to handle the coronavirus crisis, as emphasised by his recommendation of a drug that could engender deadly side effects, and by his attempt to make light of the situation by suggesting that disinfectants be ingested (Stracqualursi, 2020). Thus, he hopes that shifting the blame to the WHO would absolve himself of blame and make him seem as an appealing candidate for the election, making this move a selfish political move.
In our opinion, politicians should not manipulate any crises for their own political gains. Rather, they ought to work together regardless of geographical boundaries to achieve a common goal of assuaging the harms inflicted by the crisis.
Written by Karenin Lee (20-A1)
Lesson #3: Social Irresponsibility
A crisis like this can bring out the best in us, but it can also reveal humanity’s ugly side. COVID-19 has been a pandemic that puts our social consciousness to the test. In the early stages when the virus hit home, we have evidently not done enough on our part to prove that we can stand united against such odds. When a forest fire breaks out, animals native to the forest scatter about in all directions with little semblance of order, to ensure that they and their families can escape. Just like how the animals run in all directions due to fear of the fire, many of us in society may have reacted to the spread of the virus in our community by panic buying and stockpiling, due to fear of losing these resources to other people as well. Have we spared a thought for others? The fact that we could buy as much as we pleased and stay home, protected from the virus, is on its own a privilege. However, as we reach our hands out to grab more instant noodles and canned food, we draw our hands back from reaching out to the vulnerable in society. Does this not reflect how selfish we can be when it comes to matters that concerns the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones? While we help ourselves with whatever is available in supermarkets, we have forgotten that people with disabilities, elderly living in isolation may not be able to access such necessities as freely as we can. What is worse is that, some of us in society do not even bother to adhere to measures that our government has put in place to safeguard the health of us and those around us. On 12 April 2020, it was reported on Straits Times that over 200 composition fines of $300 were issued to members of public who did not comply to the elevated safe-distancing measures across the island (Ang, 2020). Furthermore, 129 firms in Singapore have received stop-work orders as of 2 April 2020 (Phua, 2020). Just because wearing a mask is uncomfortable, just because we desire to be in close proximity to our friends, just because firms dread losing profits, does not make non-adherence to guidelines meted out justified. If we do spare a thought for others, and if we do care, we should do our part. After all, we can only depend on each other to stay united, against crises as such.
To help the disadvantaged in our society, we can donate to charities or bring an extra mask along with us when we head out to the supermarket so that we can pass it to the one poor grandmother who has forgotten to bring her own due to her personal troubles.
Written by Zenov Liu (20-U1)
Lesson #4: Inequality
Inside one of Hong Kong’s many cage homes (source: Society for Community Organisation)
Chances are you have seen many images of celebrities and influencers enjoying their #quarantinelife on your social media feeds. Perhaps you are viewing this article in the comfort of your own home. However, do consider the above image.
Regrettably, not all of us get to practice social distancing in the comfort of our own homes. The cage homes in the above image are subdivided apartments that often have space for only a bed and some clothes. One’s closest neighbor is just a few feet away, inside the same room. (Berlinger, 2020) Vigilant social distancing is not an option for those with lower income and this is just one of the many signs of inequality that COVID-19 has exposed.
Closer to home, the surge of COVID-19 cases among migrant workers have revealed the dismal conditions these migrant workers live in. As many as 20 migrant workers are housed in a single room, making it almost impossible for social distancing and this has created a hotbed for COVID-19 transmissions among the migrant worker population in Singapore.
The Singapore government is no doubt trying its best to control the situation by urging more migrant workers to be tested and getting treated on time. SIM cards have also been given out to migrant workers to contact their relatives living thousands of miles away. Nevertheless, there is still a glaring inequality between citizens and migrant workers in terms of living conditions and the government has a long way to go in improving migrant workers’ working and living conditions for a more equitable Singapore. There should be greater support for non-profit organisations like Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) from citizens (Ratcliffe, 2020). It should not take a global health crisis for Singapore to realise that we have been neglecting the rights of those who have painstakingly built our country’s infrastructure brick by brick.
Written by Beverly Tan (19-E3)
Lesson #5: In times of crisis, long term gains are worth short-term sacrifices
When I was younger, my mother would often tell me, “You can’t have your cake and eat it”. Of course, her advice would often fall on deaf ears as the indolent me would rather lounge on the couch and watch the newest reboot of my favourite television series than study for my upcoming examination. Needless to say, I have never scored well in examinations or tests. What often awaited me when I got back home would be harsh admonishments from my dearest mother. From my experience, I have learnt that in order to gain something, you must sacrifice something first. In this case what was given up was my ability to enjoy another episode of a television series. It was not in vain though, for I gained admirable grades as a result.
Likewise, to curb community spread of the coronavirus, the Singaporean government decided to implement a circuit breaker. To students like myself, this involves the closing down of our favourite bubble tea shops and hours cooped up in our rooms doing Home-Based Learning. For owners of small businesses, this could mean a huge decrease in earnings, retrenchment of workers and thus a drop in living standards. However, the government is currently supporting SMEs through the co-funding of the first $4600 for nine months for each person hired. Not only that, SMEs will also receive a corporate tax rebate of 25 percent, but this tax rebate is capped at $15000 for every company (Sarmiento, 2020).
Yet, we are certain that the circuit breaker measures that were implemented will not be for naught as they grant us, as well as our loved ones, healthy bodies free from the threat of the potentially lethal COVID-19.
Written by Karenin Lee (20-A1)
- NextShark and Admerasia (2020, April 17). This Heat Map Shows Asian American Reported Hate Crimes Across the Country. Retrieved from Next Shark: https://nextshark.com/this-heat-map-shows-asian-american-reported-hate-crimes-across-the-country/
- Singman, B. (2020 , April 15). Global battle erupts as Trump pulls WHO funding over coronavirus response. Retrieved from Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/global-battle-erupts-as-trump-pulls-who-funding-over-coronavirus-response
- Stracqualursi, V. (2020, April 24). Doctors reject Trump’s dangerous suggestion to use disinfectant as a coronavirus treatment. Retrieved from Fox10 News: https://www.fox10tv.com/news/us_world_news/doctors-reject-trumps-dangerous-suggestion-to-use-disinfectant-as-a-coronavirus-treatment/article_97c164c8-919d-55d0-a918-0ef657b65c71.html
- Phua, R. (2020 , April 02). COVID-19: 129 stop-work orders issued to workplaces that did not follow safe distancing measures, says MOM. Retrieved from Channel News Asia : https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid-19-stop-work-from-home-wfh-safe-distancing-office-mom-12603302
- Ang, J. (2020 , April 12 ). Coronavirus: 200 fines of $300 issued for non-compliance of safe distancing measures. Retrieved from The Straits Times : https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/coronavirus-200-fines-of-300-issued-for-non-compliance-of-safe-distancing-measures
- Catherine Kim (2020, May 25). “They just see that you’re Asian and you are horrible”: How the pandemic is triggering racist attacks. Retrieved from Vox: https://www.vox.com/identities/2020/3/25/21190655/trump-coronavirus-racist-asian-americans
- Joshua Berlinger (2020, April 26). Social distancing in 100 square feet : Hong Kong’s cage homes are almost impossible to self-isolate in. Retrieved from CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/25/asia/hong-kong-social-distancing-coronavirus-intl-hnk/index.html
- Rebecca Ratcliffe. (2020, April 23). ‘We’re in a prison’: Singapore’s migrant workers suffer as Covid-19 surges back. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/singapore-million-migrant-workers-suffer-as-covid-19-surges-back
- Sarmiento, P. (2020, April 28). ASEAN nations ramp up measures to help SMEs. Retrieved from China Daily: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202004/28/WS5ea786ffa310a8b2411522f1.html