Coronavirus Fears: How To Keep Calm And Carry On In Singapore – By Expat Andrea McKenna Brankin

Hear from Singaporean residents who are choosing to remain positive, despite the alarming headlines about the latest coronavirus.
12 February 2020

(image: Lim Yaohui, The Straits Times)

The novel (or “new”) coronavirus – a.k.a., the Wuhan virus – is making a major impact on Singapore life right now.

Since the city-state’s DORSCON level went to Orange last week (see what that means, below), people living here have been really ramping up precautions – and anxiety.

Although there have been no deaths in SG at the time of publication, the virus is taking its toll in Asia.  At least 1,000 deaths have been reported in China, where the virus originated in the Wuhan province, as of Feb. 11. And, the overall death has surpassed that of the SARS epidemic in 2003, according to a BBC.com report also out yesterday.

(image: Gov.sg)

These are startling stats. And, yes, we’re all concerned – to varying degrees. While there has been some panic-buying of dry foods like noodles and goods like toilet paper, and masks and sanitisers are sold out everywhere, the people I interviewed for this article are choosing instead to Keep Calm and Carry On, as that much-copied WWII motivational poster instructed. Here’s what they’re doing:

Following Practical Advise

My friend who is a nurse and lives in SG says this about prevention:

“Here in Singapore, the best recommendations are the same as with any cold and influenza season. Wash your hands with soap often. Avoid touching your face, especially eyes, nose and mouth. If you have a runny nose, cough, fever or difficulty breathing, go see a doctor. If you have symptoms, put on a mask to limit the droplets you spread in your surroundings and onto other people. There is no benefit from wearing a mask in daily life, except that it reminds you to not touch your face.”

(Learn more about how the virus works on this helpful video.)

Not Listening to Rumours

One issue the Singapore government is particularly concerned about is fake news. As part of a public address this past Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said rumours really hurt the situation (watch his speech below).

To help combat such misinformation, the government also has a new WhatsApp system from Gov.sg to disseminate factual information about the virus and how it’s spreading here. It offers precautionary tips as well as dispels rumors, such as places people should avoid where cases might have occurred (which are untrue), and even a scam involving callers scaring people into giving bank account numbers by saying they have contact tracing information.

Sign up for WhatsApp alerts by messaging 8129 0065.

Screen shot of a 12 February WhatsApp alert from Gov.sg

Letting the Kids Play Outdoors

Even with extra-curricular activities being canceled, a number of families and recreational groups I’ve come across have decided to get the kids outside in the local parks — meeting for kite-flying, scootering or throwing/kicking a rugby or soccer ball around in places like East Coast Park and West Coast Park.

Getting lots of fresh air has always been a great deterrent for germs and boosting the immune system. Even Grab and taxi drivers are rolling down windows in between fares to deter any contaminants. Likewise, hanging out in Mother Nature is good for overall health and well-being.

Andrea’s daughter playing at the Marine Cove Playground at East Coast Park this past Saturday

Bringing Fresh Air Indoors, Too

The Straits Times also reported this week that turning off air-conditioners and opening windows can help reduce the risk of contracting the virus.

The theory is that the virus doesn’t like hot places – over 30 degrees C (86 F) with humidity levels of more than 80 percent – and early studies have shown that viruses thrive in cooler areas. Chalk one up for Singapore’s weather!

SG’s hot and humid climate may actually discourage the spread of viruses.

Not Panicking

This advice is important to consider, though it can be easier to say than to follow. A yoga teacher I know, who is knowledgeable about psychology and yoga theory, reminds people that piling on stress can lower your immunity (just check out this article from the respected Cleveland Clinic in the U.S.).

Prime Minister Lee advised not to panic, too, and not to worry about food and supplies running out. “Fear and anxiety are natural human reactions,” he said in his speech, adding that “fear can do more harm than the virus itself, it can make use panic or do things that make matters worse, like circulating rumors online, hoarding face masks or food or blaming particular groups for the outbreak. Instead, we should take courage and see through this stressful time together.”

Using Humour

Although being insensitive is never the way to go, having a laugh now and then is helpful in getting through stressful times.

There are a few funny memes going around social media that feature such topics as kiasu behaviour… like buying condoms to push elevator buttons with. One such meme reads, “Please don’t hoard condoms. I need sia!”

“Please don’t hoard condoms. I need sia!” read one recent meme. 

One friend says there should be a Disney-like FastPass checkout for groceries, as many people have queued up with excessive amounts of supplies. “If you are buying potato chips and not hoarding toilet paper, you can go first!” she suggests. When I asked her if I could use her quip for this article she replied, “But I’m dead serious.”

Regardless of which side of the panic button you are on, most positive-minded people suggest trying to keep some perspective. We know the medical systems here are excellent, the public is well-informed and the government is keeping tight controls on the situation with succinct precautions in every aspect of life here.

A friend of mine who has compromised immunity due to respiratory problems shared this with his school and me: “We need to remain cautious but measured and rational. Perspective is important. It’s helpful to inform ourselves regarding how a communicable pathogen like coronavirus operates and how transmission occurs, and also inform ourselves of the facts and statistics to assess what the real danger is.”

“Am I worried? Yes, I am,” he continued. “But, I am highly-informed on this topic because I am one of those high risk members of the population having suffered acute respiratory disease all my life, and I am still highlighting perspective and hopefully helping provide some ‘cautious calm’.”

As a community, we can overcome this obstacle – whether you decide to laugh about it, lend someone mask (as someone from AWA Singapore did for my family) or just keep reading the facts. In that light, let’s all just keep washing our hands, not touching our faces and looking out for one another.

 

About Andrea McKenna Brankin

Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.

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