Lonely Little India during Circuit Breaker in Singapore

For about a month now, since April 7, we have been living under circuit breaker measures in Singapore. We call it ‘CB’ for short, and it is basically our version of lockdown during the COVID19 epidemic. Singapore CB is more relaxed (in some ways) than rules adopted by our European brethren. There is no limit on outdoor exercise or trips to the supermarket, and we don’t require a written permit to leave the house. But, many businesses have suspended operations as a result of CB. Personal movements are also increasingly being tracked. This is for everyone’s safety.

Little India during circuit-breaker

What is the Singapore Circuit Breaker?

The introduction of circuit breaker was officially announced by the Singapore government on 3 April. It includes the following rules and guidelines:

  • Leave the house alone, do not exercise or travel in pairs or groups to reduce public crowds
  • Always wear a face mask outside
  • Do not loiter or socialise in public places
  • Do not pay social visits to other households
  • Suspension of non-essential shops and services, including dessert or beverage stalls, hairdressers, pet shops, bars, laundromats, and cleaning services
  • All restaurants and food stalls to only sell takeaway meals, no dine-in service allowed
  • All non-essential services companies to operate work-from policies

Like any self-respecting woman, my first reaction was to book an appointment at the hairdresser. I just managed to squeeze in a visit before the lockdown! I was charged $100 extra than what I normally pay for the exact same treatment. But, I let it go without complaint since times are tough for small business right now. I have been spending my lockdown looking for a new hairdresser meanwhile…

It feels weird walking around my area of Little India during circuit breaker. Little India is one of the busiest hubs of Singapore. The place is normally full of colour, noise, bustling markets, and a never-ending throng of people. But if you walk around Little India today, the streets are empty.

Little India during circuit-breaker

Even Mustafa, the famous 24-hour shopping centre, has been all shut up until three days ago! Probably due to a coronavirus cluster identified here. No doubt they’re kicking themselves for not expanding into e-commerce sooner.

Little India during circuit-breaker

What’s even weirder is adjusting to wearing a face-mask when walking outside. As I explained in my previous blog, many Asian societies adopted the practice of wearing face-masks after the SARS outbreak. The cheap paper masks fit okay and cost about $5 a packet, but in Singapore’s hot and humid weather, they can get very sweaty and ‘unsavoury’ quickly. I have also found that wearing a face-mask causes my sunglasses to steam up, as it directs warm breath upward!

Many shops in Little India are closed. But, you can still buy fruit and vegetables from some small vendors. This is where I come to hunt out the big, black eggplants (supermarkets only sell the skinny purple variety), as well as loose tomatoes, limes, and fresh bunches of coriander. Sometimes, I am the only person in the shop!

I also prefer shopping at these stalls because I don’t need to go to through the hassle of signing-in using a phone app first. Back in February, Singapore launched the TraceTogether app, which was designed to speed up contact tracing. However, the uptake has been low as many citizens are concerned about privacy. Consequently, it is now mandatory to sign-in via a Safe Entry digital check-in app whenever you visit a shopping mall, hospital, or supermarket. Electronic check-in will also be extended to workplaces, schools, hairdressers, and hotels in the coming days. This helps to keep everyone safe.

Did the Circuit Breaker Work?

Singapore has been under the international spotlight ever since the apparent explosion in coronavirus cases since early April. Currently, there are over 23,000 confirmed cases in Singapore. This is higher than any other South-East Asian country.

But, you cannot always trust the numbers. For starters, Singapore is conducting significantly more tests than its neighbours. Singapore is also more transparent about reporting numbers, with daily detailed reporting to the public. Lastly, Singapore is more stringent than its neighbours in monitoring and upholding lockdown rules.

Fortunately, many of the coronavirus clusters here are contained. The majority stem from the foreigner worker community who live in dormitories at close-quarters. The government is covering their medical care and salaries until things go back to normal. Coronavirus in the broader community (i.e. outside the foreign worker dormitories) have been single digit for a number of consecutive days. That means CB is working.

Little India during Circuit Breaker

Circuit breaker measures will start easing from tomorrow, 12 May. However, I think I’m gonna miss the relative peace and quiet I have been enjoying during my strolls through Little India.

Normally, I race through Little India as fast as a possible; dodging passersby, because I hate slow walkers! I can now take my time wandering through this culture-rich neighbourhood. In addition to the wild elephants and holy cows, I have also discovered some amazing street art during my walks.

My favourite mural is just behind Serangoon Road. It is a dark blue wall with what looks like ‘pig people’, painted with big noses and vibrant pink skin. I find it captivating in a sort of grotesque way.

This painting of a rubbish collection is also very fitting for the area. On a regular busy evening in Little India (pre-CB), you need to dodge the rats and piles of rubbish outside the restaurants as you walk by. Once, a rat even scrambled over my foot! Fortunately, the rats here are not as big as in London, and they seem to have disappeared these days.

I also captured some pretty pictures of the famous Indian barbershops that are reminiscent of busier times.

Little India during Circuit Breaker

And what about this lonely restaurant, waiting for customers? It still serves take-away!

Little India during Circuit Breaker

Congratulations, Singapore! We have completed phase one of the circuit breaker! Now, let’s all do our part by continuing to practice smart social-distancing so we can power through the remaining hurdles. Meanwhile, I am going to miss my lonely Little India during circuit breaker.

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