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Singapore’s only barrier-free university

On NTU’s (and Singapore’s) mixed response to Covid-19, and why it’s probably more difficult that most of us realise.

Yes, it’s another opinion from someone that isn’t an epidemiologist, medical professional, civil servant, etc etc. To make a long story short, I’ve been hearing a ton of divisive views with regards to Singapore’s response to Covid-19, both from the “It’s too much!” and “It’s too little!” camp.

Mainly from my dad — because he somehow managed to straddle both camps within the span of a few months.

The disease went from a deadly pandemic to flu 2.0 within a couple of failed businesses. Deaths and infection rates plummeted (except for America and a few others) as lockdowns kicked in. Instead of the lockdowns being effective disease preventers, many saw it as extra precautions after disease has been prevented. Ditto for masks, eating out, and restrictions to gathering in groups.

Personally, I’m not fully for or against the precautions. For one, I see through some obvious loopholes (like gathering in groups of more than 5 simply splitting to different tables: that isn’t in line with with the spirit of the restrictions obviously). On the other, I understand the need for the restrictions because they are obviously what kept numbers low in the first place.

That said, I’m not entitled to act like I have the most informed opinion. Reading a couple of studies and articles and cherrypicking the ones I agree with (like my dad) don’t really add anything to the mix. It is also not how scientific research works. One study does not disprove another study. It merely points out the flaws in a study, and helps to improve knowledge on the topic until some sort of informed, scientific consensus can be reached.

Which brings me to NTU.

NTU is a sort of tiny analogy of Singapore, and maybe the world. They’ve decided, however dangerously, to allow school life to carry on as if nothing much is going on. Sure, we’ve got to wear masks and scan in, but for the most part, we get face-to-face lessons, lectures, the works.

The problems, naturally, come from overcrowded canteens and buses — a natural and unavoidable consequence of peak hours. Which apparently wasn’t seen as too much of a problem until a case of Covid-19 was traced back to NTU recently.

Mini-panics ensued, before everything settled back as if nothing happened within a day or two. Groups of more than 5 gathered for meals: including ours — splitting it into two tables, while good for avoiding fines, really doesn’t count for much. People still went to the gym. Basically, life as per the new normal (#trendy).

I think that’s basically the way it has to go. A measured response. To everything. The fact that numbers are low need not necessarily mean its time to open everything back up, and every additional day of lockdown or safety measures being an overreach. The fact that there are numbers need not necessarily mean we should have stayed locked down for longer, and every additional case being cause for indicting our politicians.

To blast the school for focusing on barrier-free carparks (or any other country for that matter. Except America probably) while ‘being lax’ on other things (like face-to-face classes) feels too one-sided. There are people who want to study in person. And there are people who’d rather study at home. By all accounts, NTU has done a good job on that (you can opt to study completely from home if you want).

Again, I emphasise the fact that I’ve got no medical or public policy training. Like 95 per cent of the people mouthing off either which way. The only solution, or rather the only solution that’s viable, is to wait. In the meantime, wearing masks while waiting for meals might be kinda useless. But it’s hard to say how many infections have been stopped from wearing these masks. Which is why it’s exactly the right kind of useless.

PS: It’s been less than a week, and everyone forgot about it after mouthing off on the lax restrictions.