2020, the year the world changed.

It happened once in my lifetime as far as I can remember and as far as global repercussions are concerned. It was on September 11, 2001 when two planes were hijacked and crashed through the World Trade Center in New York. Instantaneously, the future trajectory of the world changes. If we could invent a dimensional portal to another parallel universe where this didn’t happen, the world will definitely have looked very different indeed. This singular event threatened global stability.

Other events that threatened global stability include the SARS of 2003 (which served as a wake up call for the world in handling future pandemics) and the global financial crisis of 2008.

But now as we see Covid-19 making its way around the world, we are only starting to see the damage that is being done to the global economy as billions of people are in lockdown in their respective countries, trying their best to slow down the spread of the virus, so that health care needs are not overwhelmed.

We can only stay home, wait and see till it all blows over to see the extent of the damage.

For now, I am lucky to be in Singapore. With an excellent health care system, a highly transparent government that gives detailed press briefings on the situation of the pandemic on a daily basis and the measures the government is taking to slow down infection rates an prevent the virus from spread within the community on a large scale, day to day life is still relatively normal in Singapore. Retail outlets, bars and restaurants are still open. Of course there are minor inconveniences here and there, such as filling out personal details for contact tracing, temperature screenings, and Business Continuity Plans being in placed to reduce social mingling among colleagues. These are truly minor inconveniences as compared to near total lockdown other country have imposed on their people. They can’t work, shops and restaurants must be closed and personal movement is restricted. All these is done so as to ‘flatten the curve’ and slow down the spread of the Coronavirus. I cannot imagine how it must have felt when suddenly you are told that you cannot go outside except to buy groceries, seek medical care or walk your dog. Literally overnight your daily routines are upended.

Calamities that changed the world and moving house.

What does these two have in common? Well, for my family at least, it seems that this is the second time we are moving house in a midst of a global calamity. I remember moving house to Woodlands from Yishun in late 2001. I remembered moving to our new house with some furniture still missing (we bought them, but it hasn’t arrive yet). We were having takeout dinner in the living room with the new coffee table, but no sofa yet. The TV was already set up at one corner of the living room. As we were having dinner on the 11th of September 2001, two planes were headed towards the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. That singular event will forever be seared in my mind. It changed the world completely. I remember a sense of dread the next morning as I went to school, unable to focus on school work for much of the day, with the clip on TV of the planes crashing onto the buildings like missiles constantly looping in my mind. I was only 14. But I understood the implications and the severity of that singular event.

Fast forward almost 20 years later, and my parents are moving house again. 2020 was the planned year in which they will officially start hunting for a new house, sell the old one, start renovating and finally moving and settling down to their new house. It will be their retirement home moving forward. My parents aren’t young anymore. So it was important for them to choose a house and furnish it well so that they can live the rest of their days in bliss. Usually, such a move requires lots of planning, and the whole process will take at least the better half of a year.

Now, we are in the midst of moving. Renovation is about to start on the new home. It will take about two weeks or so, while we finalise the logistics of furniture delivery, kitchen appliances delivery, packing and finally moving. Their target date to finally settle into their new house will be no later than 1st May. They started house hunting back in December. Got a buyer for their old house in January. Made the transaction over several weeks, dealing with paperwork and such. I was right. Moving house takes a better part of half a year.

Coronavirus is raging globally and a catastrophe on such an epic scale is happening in the midst of our move. What a coincidence!

The world will remember what life was like B.C. (Before Coronavirus) and what life will be like A.C. (After Coronavirus).

New Zealand imposes mandatory 14-day quarantine on all international passengers

When I read that headline, I was relieved.

Let me tell you why.

Back in December sometime during Christmas, there was talk with my travel buddies to plan for another road trip. They wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, for a road trip during the first half of 2020. I tentatively agreed to the idea at first despite an anticipated busy work schedule in the first 4 months of 2020, especially April. I suggested May, but it was a little too late for some of them. We then agreed on end of March, since I had a small window of opportunity to go for a road trip, before a flurry of activity awaited in the office upon coming back from the holiday leading to the month of April.

We were discussing where to go and I suggested New Zealand, which none of them had gone to, except me. I was not overly enthusiastic about going there again, but I didn’t mind at all, since New Zealand is such a beautiful country and enjoying the sights and nature will definitely do me more good than harm by getting away from work and allows me de-stress a little before April arrives.

At that point in December, nothing was set in stone yet as we couldn’t nail down the exact dates where all of us could take time off to embark on a road trip to New Zealand. We then agreed to confirm and meet again to plan our itinerary sometime right after Chinese New Year, toward the end of January.

At that point in time, news of the Coronavirus hadn’t caught on yet (despite the fact that the earliest infections recorded could have been as early as November 2019, but no one new that it was a novel Coronavirus). It was the week leading up to Chinese New Year, when multiple news agencies picked up various reports coming from China that a mysterious new virus has been seen spreading in Hubei province. The news caught on like wildfire, with the situation in China rapidly changing on a daily basis.

I remember at that time, China moved swiftly to impose travel restrictions around the country and began imposing total lockdown in various parts of Hubei province. The authorities in China were serious. They knew something serious and bad was happening in Wuhan. The situation wasn’t any better when it took place during the Chinese New Year period, where the movement of people is at its maximum throughout China. Soon, Singapore and the surrounding region in close proximity to China received confirmation that the virus has arrived in the countries from people arriving from China.

When that happened I had the gut feeling that this was going to get worse. It was a new, unknown virus. We don’t know how easily it can spread, its mortality rate and the symptoms one can get when one is infected. A lot of unknowns were hung up in the air, as thousands get infected every day in China. I had to be the party pooper and told my friends that I no longer felt safe to travel during this period because of the developments in China. I told them to wait and see and put our trip on hold.

Fast forward roughly two months from the moment I backed out from the planned trip, and we are now seeing over 160 000 infections all around the world. Europe is the new epicentre in the virus spread and part of the second wave of infections after China successfully managed to contain the spread from within their borders. Now the number of infected worldwide is increasing again at an exponential rate. Countries all over the world are imposing travel restrictions against one another and Singapore and New Zealand are no exception. Despite the fact that Singapore has largely been successful in containing the outbreak and minimising local transmissions and that New Zealand has only detect 8 people with the virus, given that the disease is now a pandemic, it is natural that New Zealand needs to protect itself from import cases coming from places like China, South Korea, the EU and the USA. So they impose mandatory quarantine on all international travellers.

Looking back, I was right in following my gut feeling in not moving ahead with the itinerary planning and all the flight and hotel bookings bookings, as the trip would have been impossible given the travel restriction New Zealand has just imposed today on all international travellers. I feel relieved that I did not have to go through high levels of anxiety regarding my upcoming trip to New Zealand, if all our accommodations and flight arrangements been made back in January.

Coronavirus, now in more than 120 countries and counting

As of today, there are close to 160 000 infections around the world. The number of infected outside China is going to exceed those from within China. Europe is the new epicenter of the outbreak, with countries like Italy, Spain, France, and Germany reporting cases in the thousands.

More than 120 countries around the world have reported cases of the Coronavirus.

On the home front in Singapore, we are seeing a sharp increase in the number of cases, a majority of them imported from other countries. These people traveled overseas, caught the virus and got sick and tested positive upon arrival. Today, as of this writing, Singapore reported 14 new cases, the highest reported in a single day, with 9 of them coming from other countries. This is a disturbing trend, because despite putting additional resources in detecting them early on our borders and imposing travel restrictions from places where the virus is spreading rapidly, we are still seeing a rapid number of imported cases.

The tiny good news is that local transmission within the community is still small and manageable. However these imported cases are often not caught at the border as they are largely asymptomatic upon arrival. It is only laters, as they assimilated within our community upon arrival do they see symptoms related to the coronavirus. Each one of these new imported cases is a ticking time bomb, being able to spread to the local community as soon as symptoms appear. If they don’t practice social distancing, avoiding crowded places and refuse to see a doctor at the earliest onset of symptoms, then they are susceptible to spreading to a large number of people around him or her.

It feels like as the second wave of infection are arriving from Europe and the Americas, and with infections on the rise in nearby ASEAN, nations, we are struggling in keeping those numbers down. We are being bombarded with imported cases that have the potential to create a new infectious cluster in Singapore.

Europe is in a very bad state, thousands of new infections reported in total within the EU region with no end in sight. I just hope that imposing a lockdown on the entire nation like what Italy and Spain has done will start to bear fruit and see the numbers of newly infected come down. Europe hasn’t peaked yet, meaning we will see tens of thousands of new cases in the coming week. And the US is just started its upward exponential trajectory of infections.

Coronavirus: Now in 70 countries and counting

Just a couple of weeks ago, I gave my own personal opinion of how I feel about the novel Coronavirus that is spreading all over the world, in particular, China, toward the end of February. At that time, the world was fixated on China. Many were asking: Can China contain the outbreak? Were measures that the Chinese government implemented to control the spread of the virus effective in containing the spread among local communities? How many more infections and death will be see before infection rates taper off and start to decrease? We are now seeing the effects of those measures and they have largely been effective. But while those extreme measures that China impose on its people to restrict its movement and consequently, limit the spread, is working, the country will now have to grapple with the virus that could potentially come from another country.

Who would have thought that within a week or so, the number of people infected with the virus in South Korea would increase from around 50 to 5000? South Korea is not the only one having to grapple with a sudden surge of infections within their own country. Outside of Asia, we are seeing hotspots in the Middle East, in particular Iran, and Europe, like France, Germany and worst affected of all, Italy. These hotspots are increasing the likelihood that the world will experience a global pandemic, regardless of how effective China is dealing with this outbreak at this point of time. Even if China can keep new infections low and lift travel curbs within the country, they now have to deal with potential infections from travellers entering China.

We are now seeing a slow burn of the disease spreading through various communities in the USA. Like a hot, glowing goal that refuses to die, hot enough to still burn. No doubt, we will be seeing a lot more Coronavirus cases in the coming days and weeks as people who are infected start to show symptoms of the disease. By then, its too late to do comprehensive contact tracing for these people as local transmissions has already happen.

The world is now approaching the 100k milestone in terms of the number of people infected since the beginning of the outbreak that occured in Wuhan, China. The WHO has not yet declared a pandemic, but all signs point to one. With 70 countries now having cases of the disease within their borders, and the numbers creeping up as new infections are detected from various countries on a daily basis, I think the world cannot afford another South Korea style surge of new cases anywhere. Containing and mitigating the spread of the virus in South Korea, Iran and Italy is already a headache of the world (just look at the damage been done in terms of the number of new infections originating from Iran and Italy).

Right now, living in Singapore, I am truly grateful to have an effective government doing all its best to protect its citizens and implement measures that are sensible and manageable to keep the number of new infections low. We have been lucky. Singapore has been lucky. We have over a hundred cases now, but we have yet to see large surges in new infections. But all these efforts of containment and mitigation will be in vain, if the rest of the world burns. It is simply impossible to close off out borders completely, just so that we prevent importing new cases from other countries.

I also want to applaud all the front line healthcare staff who put their lives at risk on a daily basis to not only keep us safe, but protect and health and wellbeing of those infected. I don’t want to jinx it, but despite having more than a hundred cases, there hasn’t been a single death. I think that is largely due to the professionalism of all the front line health care staff, doctors, nurses as well as our overall health care system that we have here in Singapore.

Is this the pandemic of my generation? Will this be the pandemic that I will tell to my children?

Coronavirus, my two-cents

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.

Merlion park in times of coronavirus outbreak

As you know, Singapore is in a midst of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak with over 70 people infected as of today. While the spread of the virus is not as severe or far reaching as that of China, Singapore has imposed travel limitations to anyone coming to Singapore from China. This has terrible consequences to the tourism industry in Singapore.

I was at the Merlion Park one weekend to gauge for myself how severely impacted Singapore is to the effects of the Coronavirus, especially the number of tourists visiting Singapore this part month or so. Because of the travel limitations imposed, there is definitely a significant decrease in tourism arrivals, especially when Chinese tourists make up the bulk of visits to Singapore as a holiday destination.

I took pictures of the Merlion Park with my new X-Pro 3 and noted the drop in the number of visitors in the areas. It was a blessing for me, as I was able to take pictures of the Merlion without much interference. It was overall, a pleasant picture-taking experience. Although I must add, that the Merlion, if it was a real creature, would have been sad to see so few visitors coming to Singapore to take pictures with him in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.