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.

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?

Pandemic, the board game

Saboteur is a great card game that can accommodate up to 10 players. Its a great and fun party game where two teams compete against each other, preventing each other from reaching their goals. Such board games and card games that can accommodate such a large group of people is hard to come by. There is only one other such game that can do that. It is none other than Werewolf:  The Ultimate Edition. In that game, each player is given a role to play and the objectives are for the werewolves to eliminate the villages one by one till they are all gone, or for the villages to correctly identify the werewolves and lynch them before the villages get killed. The Ultimate Edition can handle a whopping 68 players, which is by itself mindblowing and chaotic. I haven’t had the chance to play the game yet, but one of the cons is that killed characters can no longer take part in the game and becomes passive afterwards. Unlike saboteur, the fun part begins in identifying your friends and foes during the game and ensuring that you win the round by working together as the team. Everyone is fully engaged from the beginning till the end.
Read More