Freedom vs. Safety During the Pandemic



In the age of Covid, the all-hailing debate between safety and freedom has been put to the test. As an American living in Singapore, I have seen worlds in which both reign more influential.


Growing up in the United States, freedom is praised at all costs, with protests being a defining feature of our democracy. Unsurprisingly, I believed this culture was “normal,” and ubiquitous around the world. That was until recently, when my life seemed to morph into an isolated island of strict laws, watching the world move on around me.


In Singapore, being a relatively new nation, the priorities are far from those of the United States, and many western countries. The current Sinagporean government particularly seems to measure success based on how other nations might perceive them. Using the obvious example of COVID infections, Singapore aims to eliminate the spread of the virus as completely as possible, striving for absolute perfection. From the eyes of an outside country, this approach seems impressive; it appears to be in the best interest of the citizens and therefore a positive technique. Unfortunately for those of us living within the country, this goal of perfection has come at the cost of our freedom.


Singapore is already known for having strict rules compared to the rest of the world. Things like selling chewing gum are illegal and punishable by fine (with gum potentially leading to a $20,000 fine)(Pwee). The list goes on to limiting the types of foods you can legally import, what you can do in public, and more. Some of the more limiting laws restrict any level of protest, and do not hesitate from limiting freedom of speech. Despite this, what makes Singapore particularly unique in their laws is not just the existence of the rules, but the presence of real enforcement. In many countries, residents may feel limited by the laws, but only pressured to follow them in the presence of law enforcement. In Singapore, law-enforcement extends from the police themselves, to cameras, and to the strangers on the street who are encouraged to report others that they see breaking the law. The last example is probably what makes following the rules even more crucial.


Before COVID-19 began spreading around the world, these nit-picky laws in Singapore were fairly easily brushed off, with most people living within the borders understanding and respecting the rules. Since then, the government has taken advantage of their powers, and passed “the COVID (Temporary Measures) Act [was] on 7 April 2020. Under Sections 34(1) of the Act, the Minister may make regulations (called “control orders”) for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of COVID-19 in Singapore” (MOH). Following the passage of this act, the government has been able to make laws limiting group gatherings, mandating masks, requiring vaccinations to enter malls, preventing families from eating in restaurants together, and limiting those allowed to enter the country.


The consistent and frequent passage of laws which have the ability to dictate how a person lives to such a great measure has inspired this reflection. As I walk through the clean, futuristic streets of Singapore, surrounded by an 83.4% fully vaccinated population, I am not afraid of getting COVID. While I did once worry for my immunocompromised dad, I now feel fairly safe thanks to the laws. But when I still can’t see my older brother who graduated from high school two years ago due to the limits on entrance into Singapore, I wonder if it is worth it. When I see friends attend football games in the United States with hundreds of thousands of people in one area, but cannot leave my house with more than one other person, I wonder if the safety is worth it. I consider the inconsistencies in laws which allow for people to cram into public transportation, but prevent families from dining together. I look at the majority of the world as it accepts COVID for having an inevitable, inescapable presence in our lives, and I wonder why Singapore refuses to do the same.


At what point is safety no longer worth the limit on freedom? Would I say the same if a close family member died as a result of the virus? Should the United States federal government attempt to pass more strict laws as many liberal people desire, or should they stick with their roots favoring freedom?



Citations

1. MOH. “Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 - Control Orders.” Ministry of Health, 2021, www.moh.gov.sg/policies-and-legislation/covid-19-(temporary-measures)-(control-order)-regulations.

2. Pwee, Timothy, and Sharon Teng. “Chewing Gum Ban.” Infopedia, National Library Board, 3 Apr. 2014, eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2014-04-07_091840.html.


Author: Annie Decastro

Location: Singapore