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Essay Topic: Impact of the COVID 19 Epidemic
What is a virus? In simple terms, the common man is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. A parasite consisting of a single or double-stranded strand of RNA or DNA surrounded by a protein coat; reproducing by “commandeering” a host cell and using its machinery to make more viruses. This highly adapted and evolved life form has in many regards brought about chaos and suffering to mankind through its need for survival, often by outbreaks of new diseases such as H1N1, SARS or most recently the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (COVID 19 virus), which has rocked the world’s health bodies since its inception in December 2019.
The COVID 19 virus is the outbreak that surfaced in Wuhan city, in middle China’s Hubei state in December 2019. It has been declared to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization as of 29 February 2020 with major countries such as China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, United States , and Singapore having been identified as areas of transmission, with the latter being of particular interest with Singapore’s strategies, implementation and concurrent containment of the outbreak of the COVID 19 virus on her soil. This thesis will explore the impact the COVID 19 virus has on Singapore and the multiple methods it has implemented to contain and prevent the spread of the outbreak, through success and failure. Singapore, the little red dot. To the unexceptional person, one might assume its small and insignificant barely worthy of a passing thought, leading to confusion as to why the COVID 19 virus has decided to latch its hooks onto this spec on the world map? In reality, with a population of 5,850,342 and a total land area of 724.2 square kilometers, Singapore a maritime nation has in 50 odd years has effectively transformed itself from a third world to a first world country, having fought and won a position as one of the major trading hubs in the world. With Singapore’s success, thousands of potential seekers have flocked to her shores in hopes of making profits, in essence however providing a fertile breeding ground for the virus to flourish amongst them and in turn providing the parasite a penetration point into Singaporean.
From one such group travelers from Wuhan, did the virus manage to gain a foothold infecting its first victim on 23 Jan before swiftly spreading to its 103rd victim on 3rd March? COVID 19, however, was a disease that was anticipated and well prepared for, after Singapore’s devastating clash with SARs in 2003, wherein caught unawares coupled with inadequate facilities to contain the virus, the impacts on Singapore were devastating; with 238 infections/33 deaths in Singapore alone. From SARs, lessons learned through experience gave us a better understanding of how to lessen the impacts on Singapore’s economy, structure and most important population. Lessons such as the development of a new state-of-the-art national center for managing infectious diseases, the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). A 330-bed center designed to manage an outbreak on the scale of Sars with key features being 4 negative-pressure rooms for patients as well as a laboratory for samples to be analyzed on-site or a high-level isolation unit (HLIU) for treating high-risk pathogens. One could say the positive impact the COVID 19 epidemic has had on Singapore, with the advent of newer state of the art facilities, improved training of doctors and or medical staff; not to mention a much larger budget allocated towards battling the COVID 19 virus; giving the lion city a much-needed wake-up call to not let its guard down regarding infectious viruses.
However not all good can be said for the virus, with the negative impacts far outweighing the positives. There has been a term venerated by generations of Singaporeans, “Kiasu” (to be overly cautious and or paranoid). With this “Kiasu” mindset set in stone in Singaporean culture and amidst the society itself, it has led to a surge of panic buying and hoarding of necessities, food, and groceries at its physical and online stores, resulting in some shelves to be empty. This unwarranted behavior was further reinforced with the Government’s announcement of moving its disease outbreak response up a level to orange, with that meaning Under the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition or Dorscon, orange means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact. Essentially spurring the general public to accelerate into an overbuying frenzy, to the extent that the Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing had to give his assurance that Singapore’s supply lines for essential supplies like rice and instant noodles are intact, in a recent news article “There is no risk of us running a shortage of essential food or household items. We also have our national stockpile for essential items”. This demonstrates one of the many negative impacts, the COVID 19 virus has had on the Singapore economy with demand often exceeding the supply, often leading to necessities being unattainable due to panic buying and over hoarding.
The potential negative impacts could have on Singapore’s economy and infrastructure, not to mention the world’s economy could be dire indeed. In the case of Singapore, with the number of cases on the rise and with no end in sight, the mindset artists citizens has alternated with many preferring to remain at home, minimizing if not removing all contact with strangers and the outside world; placating themselves with the shallow lie that they are safe in the comforts of their own homes. Ergo this has led to fewer shoppers and customers of restaurants, shops, entertainment zones, etc. With the retail and foodservice industry being hit hard, restaurant operators in Singapore are bracing for a significant hit on their revenue – with some expecting as much as an 80 percent drop, over the next three months as tourists stay away and locals avoid public places amid the outbreak of the virus due to fears of contracting it. The retail and foodservice industries weren’t the only industries to suffer a devastating backlash, with the tourism industry also feeling the calamitous impact from the COVID 19 virus. Tourism plays an essential role in Singapore’s society and economy, currently contributing up to 4 percent of Singapore’s gross domestic product. With tourism reinforcing Singapore’s status as a vibrant global city that is a magnet for capital, businesses, and talent; enhancing the quality and diversity of leisure options for residents and helps to create a living environment that Singaporeans can be proud to call home. This makes it particularly critical towards Singapore due to China being Singapore’s top revenue market in the first three quarters of 2019, accounting for S$3.2 billion in tourism, accounting for around 20 percent of international visitors (3.6 million visitors from China in 2019 )contributing to revenue streams; more revenue streams meaning more money= greater standard of living= having more consumer confidence in spending and as a result growing Singapore’s economy greatly. Nonetheless, with the onset of the COVID 19 virus, Singapore Tourism Board’s forecast that tourism here could fall by as much as 25 to 30 percent this year and could translate into an S$6.8 billion to S$8.1 billion falls in revenue from tourism. The drastic fall in numbers came as a result of lower travel confidence globally leading to tourism, a major hard hitter in contributing to Singapore’s economy suffering, as a result, losing an average of 18,000 to 20,000 international visitors per day.
This large-scale exodus of international visitors has had disastrous consequences on the hotel and airline industries as well, both of which have strong ties to tourism as a result of the COVID 19 virus. With both industries doubling down and preparing for the worst, the hotel industry in Singapore has already been experiencing a rise in cancellation of rooms not to mention the costs of disinfecting rooms ($2000) per room, leading to around 20 percent of businesses being wiped out and with airlines across the world rushing to cut flights and costs, they stand to lose as much as US$113 billion (S$157 billion) in revenue this year despite numerous airline officials urging that the chances of contracting the virus onboard planes to be low,with commercial aircraft being equipped with Hepa (high efficiency particulate air) filters that remove at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles (the same level of filtration that can be found in hospitals), passenger confidence, with even bookings to countries with very few cases have slumped, ultimately turning into negative impacts directed towards the Singapore economy and more importantly a crisis in the long term as multiple revenue streams are severed or weakened as result of lower consumer confidence.
Another negative impact that is rarely touched upon is the tender topic of social impacts the COVID 19 virus has had on altering the mindset of Singaporeans today. As the number of cases continues to rise, it is accompanied by paranoia and mania with regards to contracting the virus, often directed against frontline workers battling the virus. This type of behavior isn’t a first as seen previously during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, healthcare workers who had been in the frontline had been shunned by others who feared that they might pass the infection to them. This irrational behavior has led to reports surfacing online of healthcare workers being discriminated against in public places, such as nurses being asked to take the stairs instead of the lift or to get off the train or that ambulance driver who went to buy food in common areas were asked to leave. The increase in wariness and outright aberrant behavior has led to cries out outrage as these frontline warriors have been sticking their neck out day and night in combating the COVID 19 virus, with urgings from government officials to instead of shunning them, rather show your appreciation through small gestures of thanks or gifts, giving them a much-needed morale boost. This unsavory attitude from certain Singaporeans has proved to have had a negative psychological/social impact on the minds of the healthcare workers in terms of stress, harassment and outright provocation as who would want to come back home to jeers and suspicion after sticking their neck out in a dangerous environment for the very people who shun you?
Another impact the COVID 19 virus had on Singapore would be industrially and politically. The COVID 19 virus represents a defining moment for Singapore’s economic future, primarily because the spread of this global virus has accelerated two powerful trends: The decoupling from China’s supply chains and the relocation of strategic manufacturing operations out of China. Singapore’s importance as a regional financial, logistics and innovation hub puts it at the center of a dramatically changing business landscape, and the world’s leading businesses will turn to the city-state to meet new economic needs. As a result of this China’s huge consumer market and its competitive edge as a manufacturing and assembly hub have led to what has been coined a “China conundrum” which Singapore and most south-east Asian countries have been facing. China represents Singapore’s largest non-oil export destination, at 17.3 percent of the country’s overall exports. But COVID-19 threatens to do further damage to an increasingly vulnerable Chinese economy already stung by the on-going US-China trade war and the negative consequences of a growing “systemic rivalry” with the West, especially in the technology sector. Singapore, therefore, must safely manage existing trading ties with China, while simultaneously adjusting to the realities of de-coupling and restructuring of global value chains. This inevitably means turning to more diversified and well-balanced international strategies.
For more than a decade, multinational and Chinese firms have looked to escape rising labor costs in China by moving operations to new locations in Southeast Asia and beyond. The COVID 19 virus has accelerated these demands, with numerous countries turning away from China and instead of projecting new demand and turn to Singapore for expertise and services; eg, Singapore’s world-class logistics ecosystems – such as the Port Authority of Singapore and its business partners – are in high demand for containerization, warehousing and port operations around the region. As COVID-19 forces companies to double down on de-coupling and value-chain relocation, Singapore-based tech start-ups, financial and professional services firms, and logistics companies can become imbedded in these new capacity-building solutions coupled with the lion city’s reputation as a champion of good governance and the “5 T-words,” and its designation as one of the world’s most innovative tech centers. This has led to positive growth in the industrial sector of Singapore’s economy and as a result, paving the way for future revenue streams due to a huge influx of customers who have turned away from the power-house China and flocked to Singapore’s world-class industries to conduct their businesses and generate profits; making this a positive impact and in essence a long-term key success as Singapore adjust to a new and promising role in a shifting economic landscape.
The geopolitical impacts the COVID 19 virus has had on Singapore with relations to other questions can be argued to have negative and positive connotations with the political consequences being harder to foresee and potentially long-lasting. With the onset of the virus in late November in Wuhan, China, Chinese social media censors blocked neutral information about the coronavirus outbreak when they targeted references to the outbreak on WeChat and other platforms, a report has found especially when doctors attempted to publish their reports on the new virus early before it grew into an epidemic. As a result of this heavy censorship, China has come under fire from other countries, a particularly important one being Singapore, one of its major trading partners as to why information on the COVID 19 virus was not shared publicly before it grew into the epidemic it is today. From a recent news report, the dramatic rise in the cases of COVID 19 could have been avoided through the machinations of China and Singapore working together in the earlier months, possibly leading to a worsening of relations between the two countries, ultimately leading to the closing of borders between the two trading partners. A distancing from China from other countries such as Japan and Korea could also have negative impacts on the Chinese economy due to the two also being two major trading partners of the Chinese trading giant and as a result hurt the economy through less trade, reducing income streams.
However, despite this, the spread of COVID-19 is an opportunity for nations to reduce tension. While COVID-19 is presenting huge challenges to global economies, it also creates an opportunity for nations, including Singapore to reduce tensions in the south-east Asian region. As a result of the emerging pandemic, there would be greater barriers to overcome such as distancing, having to renew trust and faith in China or increase consumer confidence in China again making it harder for Xi Jinping’s China to sustain the mix of internal obedience and global respect required for its bid to dominate the region. The challenge now for Singapore and other ‘middle players’ between the United States and China is to redouble their efforts to build security cooperation and define a future based on mutual respect for the sovereignty of nations large and small. The COVID-19 emergency is a black swan event an improbable catastrophe obvious in retrospect that will disrupt the connected, contested southeast Asian region, leading to potential changes or power plays between countries as the crisis has shaken the Chinese people’s confidence in their leadership and has led to numerous uncertainties amongst neighboring countries. As a result, developing into a worsening of relations in one sense between major hubs such as Singapore and China, while on the other hand provides an opportunity for countries to put aside their differences and work for hand in hand in combating, containing and preventing a further spread of the COVID 19 virus together.
In conclusion, Singapore has arguably been hit negatively with the ongoing COVID 19 spread expected to affect the transport and tourism sectors and associated industries and companies. Air traffic through Changi, which is one of the world’s most interconnected hubs, is expected to decline and hotel room cancellations are anticipated.The accommodation and food service sector, which performed well in 2019, is also expected to slow-down due to the lockdowns and travel restrictions resulting from fears of contracting the COVID 19 virus. Not to mention a distancing of countries through suspicion and a worsening of relations politically. A large-scale decline in these areas has potentially devastating impacts on the lion city’s ability to bounce back with expectations that Singapore will probably take longer to recover from the novel coronavirus outbreak than the SARS outbreak in 2003. Fewer revenue streams, in essence, mean less capital available to be spent on improving its industry, on its people and as a result of the standard of living. However, it may also be argued that despite the various negative impacts the virus has had on Singapore, therein lies some positives as within every seed of bad, lies a piece of good. The COVID 19 virus has given the countries affected by it an unprecedented ability to put aside differences and work together in stemming and with confidence and time, eradicate the COVID 19 virus entirely. This would serve to strengthen relations in the long term, even after the war between the virus has long ended, making it a positive impact. The COVID 19 virus has also led to a shifting of the world’s industrial powers with China being primarily the leading industrial hub and service provider. However, with the onset of the virus, businesses have looked elsewhere and to Singapore, for its world-class efficient industries to conclude their business. This has a massive impact on Singapore due to many new customers flocked to its shores, generating more revenue through more demand globally, making this a massive boom in the long term, further contributing to the growth of its economy.