Also known as COVID-19, its been a little over a month since China announced sweeping restrictions on the movement of people during the Lunar New Year Holiday. Entire provinces are shut down, transport networks on land, sea and air is in shambles and tourism around the world is in the doldrums, especially with travel bans imposed by many countries on China. On the trade and economy front, supply chains from the manufacturing of cars to phones have been disrupted, leading to industry-scale manufacturing issues and shortages of goods.
I live in Singapore and we have seen a slow uptick of people getting infected with the virus. The government is doing its best in containing the outbreak and preventing a wider spread of the virus in to the community. So far the efforts have borne fruit as the infections are largely contained to known clusters that various government agencies painstakingly traced through contact tracing. I really applaud their efforts and despite the virus being out there, overall, I trust in their system deeply in keeping us safe. I feel save overall, even when I am outside and in public places. All of us need to do out part by practising good personal hygiene as a first line of defence for an individual. Let the government and health care workers do the rest in keeping us safe.
The consequences of this disease can be felt and seen. Tourism numbers are down, by a lot. This is evident in my time spent at the Merlion Park while I was taking photos of the place with my new Fujifilm X-Pro 3 a couple of weeks earlier. When you singlehandedly band an entire population (Chinese citizens from China) from entering Singapore, naturally, you will lose a significant portion of tourists into the country. While I was there, it was so quiet. Sure, there are a few tourists here and there. But were there large groups of Chinese tourists with their tour leader walking explore Merlion Park? Were there tour buses parked just outside the park. Not a single one of them were there. It is with my understanding that the Merlion Park is usually riddled with tourists no matter what day of the week. I was there in the afternoon on a Friday, and it was disturbingly quiet. You can almost feel a shift in the air that something has changed. Something has gone terribly wrong and this COVID-19 is the cause of it. With more 75 000 people infected with the virus, most of them in China, dealing with an unknown is always scary, especially with a novel virus like COVID-19.
I went to Orchard Road, a popular shopping belt in Singapore on two weekends, and the atmosphere was different. There were hardly any tourists. The people who were there, were mostly Singaporeans. It was initially difficult to wrap my head around the idea that you hardly see large crowds in Orchard Road on a Weekend. Where have they gone? The different in the number of people in Orchard Road before and after the spread of the virus is palpable. You can feel it. Personally, I feel sorry for those who are working in the retail industry. They must be hit pretty hard as a result of COVID-19. Tourism forms a significant portion of Singapore’s GDP. With one month and counting, the effects are going to get worse as the time goes by. The tourism industry in Singapore and in the rest of the world is bleeding badly. Every day we don’t have tourists for China, is a significant loss for the country, especially those who depend on them for their livelihoods.
No one can predict when this virus will stop spreading and blow over. Personally, I feel that we will be in this conundrum for quite a while, because so long as china reports a significant amount of new infection without their ability to track down where those clusters originate, it will be a difficult call to make as to when the government and lift travel restrictions of Chinese citizen to Singapore. We cannot be complacent as it takes only 1 person to develop an illness, and spread to other people, forming an infectious cluster. Because of nature of the virus, it being highly infectious and its ease of transmissibility between people, There has to be a significant reduction in the number of new infections, or no new infections followed by another 14 days to ensure that it maintains it so, because travel curbs can be lifted.
And now, we are seeing new and worrying trends of significant spread in Korea, Iran, Japan among the local population. If contact tracing is overwhelmed due to a sheer number of new infections in a day, and if they don’t act quickly to contain the spread, then it is essentially fighting a losing battle. Mass quarantine of entire towns, counties and cities will have to be impose in order to truly slow down the spread of the virus.
It’s scary to see how much a dent this virus can put on the world economy, especially if this issue drags on for months into the future. China can only do so much to cushion the impact of the epidemic. Eventually, the rest of the world will be hurt badly. Like a sick man in an ICU, as he stays there longer, first days, then weeks, the body will change. He will start losing weight, then lose muscle mass, followed by mental acuity. This wasting is what the world is experiencing now, where the economy is concerned. We only have so much in reserve, soon, everyone will feel the pinch if this drags on longer than anyone predicted. At this stage, so long as we see local outbreaks of COVID-19 somewhere around the world, the world will never go back to normal anytime soon.