When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, everyone started panicking.
In addition to practising good hygiene, WHO and many other organisations started encouraging “social distancing”.
But the vague term confused many people.
Introverts started celebrating alone in their own rooms because now their lack of friendships had a functional purpose.
Extroverts are having a harder time of it, however; meeting Ah Hock every Friday was the highlight of their week.
But is this what social distancing really means?
Reader: Of course it isn’t, only an idiot would think that.
Now, while I may or may not have thought that social distancing meant immediately ending all your friendships, it’s actually a little more complicated than that.
What is social distancing?
According to The New York Times, social distancing refers to measures that are taken to increase the physical space between people to slow the spread of the virus.
Essentially, it means to stay the hell away from others.
Reader: I did that before the disease even started spreading
There are still disagreements as to what the term actually means, however.
Some think it refers to self-quarantine, where you isolate yourself from others by staying at home. Others believe that it means keeping a distance from people in public.
But there are a few things that everyone can agree on when it comes to what social distancing actually means:
1. Maintaining a distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing in public
This is pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? WHO recommends that you maintain a distance of at least 1 metre between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
If you don’t usually have an urge to hug sick people on the streets, you’ll be fine. By maintaining a distance, you’ll lower your chances of contracting the disease, and that will limit its spread.
2. Avoiding crowds and gatherings in public places
When there is a mass of people packed together in public settings, it’s much easier for the coronavirus to spread. Take the Shincheonji church in South Korea, for example.
After one infected woman refused twice to test for the coronavirus and even attended church services at least four times despite her condition worsening, the disease started spreading like wildfire.
That’s why many experts are advising the public to avoid attending public gatherings for the time being.
3. Limiting all social engagements, which includes intimate gatherings among friends
Unfortunately, social distancing also means limiting your social interactions. Is it really wise to attend a birthday party with 100 other people right now?
The Diamond Princess cruise is a good example of how easily the coronavirus can spread.
As you know, after just one man got infected with the Covid-19 virus on the Diamond Princess cruise, 700 people onboard ended up getting infected over the next few weeks, and six later died from the disease.
New Social Distancing Measures in Singapore
On 13 Mar 2020, the Singapore government implemented new social distancing measures.
Large ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events must be postponed or cancelled.
Private functions and gatherings can still go on but organisers are urged to take the following precautions:
- Reduce the scale of the event to less than 250 participants (if possible)
- Improve ventilation and reduce crowding
- Have temperature and health screening measures
- Have a system that can facilitate contact tracing
- Remind participants to be socially responsible.
Employers are told to stagger employees’ working hours and allow them to work from home if possible.
And shops are advised to, if possible, space out tables and chairs so that customers can be 1-metre apart.
Besides that, it was suggested that businesses might also want to limit the number of customers they serve at any point in time.
You can read more about the new measures here.
Other Possible Social Distancing Measures
As the Ministry of Health has emphasised, these measures are fluid and will be subjected to changes whenever required.
In his second national address on the Covid-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined several possible social distancing measures Singapore might take in the future if there is a spike in cases.
1. Shortening of religious services
Remember what happened with the Shincheonji church?
This is one of the reasons why some religious services in Singapore have been put on hold for the time being; Catholic masses have been suspended indefinitely and mosques will be closed for at least five days.
PM Lee said that Singaporeans may need to shorten religious services or reduce our attendance at such gatherings during the Covid-19 outbreak.
2. School closures
In 2003, during the SARS outbreak, all educational institutions were closed for around two weeks after the death toll started rising.
In this instance, schools might be suspended if there is a spike in cases, said PM Lee.
Just like religious services, large groups of students congregate in school halls and classrooms, making it easier for the disease to spread.
3. Staggered work hours
One of the other possible measures PM Lee mentioned is “staggering work hours”. Now if you wondering what the hell “staggered work hours” means, you’re not alone.
You see, it’s actually an HR term that means a system of working in which employees do not arrive and leave at the same time, but have large periods of overlap.
This means that there’ll be fewer people in the working environment at a given time, which will reduce the spread of the virus.
4. Compulsory telecommuting
Telecommuting means working from home; something I do every day because the office is like my second home.
It’s not because I like it here or anything, but because I work 23 hours a day.
Boss: Well, it should be 24, but everyone needs a break I guess.
Working from home would be the most effective way of curbing the spread of the disease because it means isolating yourself from your colleagues.
Now, while some of these measures might seem drastic, what’s important to note here is that they may only be implemented during a spike.
Think Of Them As Extra “Brakes”
As PM Lee said in his speech, these measures will be extra “brakes”, to be implemented when we see a spike in cases.
When there is a spike in Covid-19 cases, we will these extra measures might come in. And when things subside, they might just go away again.
Now, you might be thinking: they’re introducing more and more drastic measures which mean things are getting worse!
That’s not it at all.
There’s a reason why Singapore’s response to the pandemic has been praised by many international organisations; because we’re well prepared and proactive.
When WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, they said they were “deeply concerned” about the “alarming levels of inaction” by many governments.
So, the Singapore government is introducing these measures before things get worse, which is something we can all get behind.
Prevention is better than cure, as they say, especially when there’s no cure (vaccine). Yet.