Watching, living, and empathizing through the Covid-19 pandemic as a Malaysian in Singapore.
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Maya Suraya Ahmad
The Rakyat Post
We’re neighbours but with a causeway separating us. We share families and food. Some might say we even prefer the other’s tourist attractions to our own.
The Tale of Two Countries
Malaysia and Singapore hold many things in common and now we can add the battle both countries are going through with Covid-19 – the universal reason life is the way it is right now.
In The Beginning
The last time I was in Malaysia was in February 2020. This comes a month after a then little-known disease hit both our shores and was often referred to as a kind of “flu”.
At the time, Singapore had reported its first transmission of this “flu-like” carrier which sparked the country into panic buying.
I remember being with family in Malaysia at the time and joking that I’d probably have to go shopping for essentials at the Village Grocer near my mum’s place. After a week of watching the chaos unfold in Singapore, the joke became reality and I returned to Singapore with a suitcase filled with toilet paper, nappies, and hand sanitiser – just as the country raised its DORSCON level to Orange.
Wake Up Call 2020
By now, everyone in Singapore was required to wear masks in public but life still went on until 21 March 2020, when the first death here (in Singapore) was reported due to Covid-19. It was also around the time Malaysia reported its first casualty (17 March 2020).
Shortly after, both countries entered Phase 1 with Malaysia implementing the Movement Control Order (MCO) on 18 March and Singapore with their Circuit Breaker on 7 April.
In light of the global outbreak, On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Both of my “homes” now were going through the same hardships of having to work from home, refrain from social gatherings, home-based learning for the kids, and the heavy toll both economies had to endure from shutting down “non-essential” business.
It hit HARD to not be able to see family and friends in Malaysia. And when Hari Raya 2020 came about, technology was a Godsend. Although not the same, we could still celebrate virtually. This was when acceptance slowly kicked in and we made the best of the situation.
While Malaysia was reporting low transmission rates with the help of MCO, Singapore looked as though they were losing ground with cases in the hundreds. What some of my friends and family in Malaysia didn’t realise was the high number was due to more testing in the dormitories where foreign workers lived in close proximity.
Community cases here however were declining. This would go on for a couple of months until Circuit Breaker ended on 1 June 2020 in Singapore and on 10 June 2020, Malaysia eased up on the MCO with different variations (CMCO, RMCO, etc).
1 July 2020 saw a record low of zero Covid-19 local transmission for Malaysia after the initial wave of infections.
I remember the shimmer of hope coming out of my phone’s screen as Malaysians proudly shared Malaysia’s Health Ministry’s Facebook post and the picture of Health Director General Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham and his deputies holding a sign showing the daily Covid-19 figures for that day.
Things were looking up and Malaysia seemingly had it under control for some time after that.
Singapore followed suit 3 months later on 13 October 2020 with zero cases in the community and only 4 imported cases.
The New Norm
While the months blurred into one long month, the new normal of wearing masks, contact tracing, social distancing, and crowd control was in full effect. It was nice to see friends and family in both countries going about their daily lives again.
For the majority of this new normal, Singapore welcomed group gatherings of 5, recreational sports were back in action, and most leisure outlets were open. The only thing missing was travel. Which affected most Malaysians in Singapore – this writer included.
Many were faced with “should I go back to Malaysia to be with my family?” or “should I stay in Singapore so I can make money to provide for my family?”. There was no right answer.
Weekly Zoom calls with family back in Malaysia became as normal as doing your laundry. Now and then, we’d get “fake news” in the form of a Whatsapp message from our elderly parents about the situation in Singapore. And more often than not, there were conflicting views of the Coronavirus, in general, being spread on various social platforms….but life went on and we could only hope for 2021 to be better.
Wake Up Call 2021
Were we as 2 nations being complacent causing the gradual yet significant surge in transmission?
Singapore had been seeing little to no cases a day when suddenly:
Sixteen new cases may not seem like a lot to Malaysians, but for a country known as the “little red dot”, it was a wake-up call. And to date, the numbers are increasing steadily.
The sudden increase has brought on Heightened Alert here in Singapore where we’ve regressed to not allowing “mask-off” activities like indoor exercising, dining in, as well as a decrease in capacity for many places.
But aren’t borders closed?
In theory yes, to leisure travelers, but they are still open to returning residents. Another possible reason, according to the BBC, is the slow vaccination drive and the country’s limited supply. However, the Singapore government expects to vaccinate its entire population by year-end.
While Malaysia is ramping up the vaccine efforts with supply available to anyone fast enough to register (and of course those who’ve already registered), Singapore is catching up and this writer has her vaccine appointment coming soon, too!
The situation may look a little bleak for all of us right now, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s do our part and follow SOPs. Stay safe everyone!
Maya Suraya Ahmad is a Content Writer for The Rakyat Post based in Singapore. All opinions here are her own and do not necessarily reflect the stand of TRP.
Former advertising mad woman - turned mother to an amazing little girl born 3 months early - and now a returned writer. Also a textbook ambivert with no clue about today's pop music but a walking encyclopedia of music from the 80s and 90s.