Friday, February 21, 2020

Viral post

So lately, I have gotten myself deep into Punjabi music. How?? Why?? Well, it just happened. When you leave for work at 6:40 am and take a 45-minute bus ride, you zone out in the bus and do not have any energy to change the autoplay music. You just let it do its thing. And once "it" realises you ain't budgin' your ass, it will really do its thing. Once in a while, you jerk awake because you hear a guy singing, "Mainu lehenga le de mehenga ja marjaniya". (Buy me an expensive lehenga??) Or "Sun le hun ek gal sohneya, Singapore le chal sohneya." (Listen to me, my darling; take me to Singapore.)


No one, I repeat, no one in their right mind is asking anyone to take them to Singapore at the moment. We used to be the hub of trade and travel; we are now a hub of the Covid-19 virus. I never thought I'd see Singapore so high up in a negative list.

It's been crazy. But we have seen crazy before. I was here when SARS hit in 2003, and I remember the temperature checks before we were allowed into the office, the uncertainty, the panic, the deaths. There was no social media back then, which was probably a blessing. I cannot imagine the kind of forwards that would have circulated.

So yeah, we have 86 cases and things are still kind of uncertain. Anyone with a respiratory symptom is being given a 5-day medical certificate. Anyone who has been to mainland China has to be quarantined. Anyone who has any contact with anyone who has it has to be quarantined. Companies that can afford it are having some or all of their staff work from home.

The fear is palpable. Any cough or sneeze you hear in the bus is enough to cause a mild panic attack, especially if you're not wearing a mask. We are out of masks and sanitiser. The entire island. Totally out. Not a single shop has a single mask. I was ranting about it to a colleague (I take public transport three times a day) and she recommended her 'dealer' to me. A lady in the Admin department is actually her dealer. You need to email the lady that you need a mask and she will literally say, "Meet me at the back door in 5 minutes." where she will discreetly hand you the contraband. It's hilarious.

So I have 4 masks in the office and 4 at home but because that's all I have, I am not using a mask daily like many people I see in the bus. Sometimes I look at the masked folks longingly, and I can sense them giving me a proud "Mere paas ma(sk) hai" look. The class divide between the haves and have-nots is sharp. But I did attempt to hand-stitch my very own washable, eco-friendly masks. I made three pieces, one each for Viv, Xena and me. They are not very successful though, because they don't have the metal strip that keeps the mask tight over the bridge of the nose, and the elastic loops keep slipping off too.

So I am clinging on to the 8 masks I have and like a good law-abiding citizen, following the government's advice on saving the masks for trips to the clinic or hospital, in case we need to. Speaking of government, my Mom told me that our Prime Minister's speech was going viral in her circles. Bloomberg covered it too. Did you see that kickass speech? Clear, calm, decisive. (And yeah, he delivered it in 3 languages. And yeah, he's a coder.) So I feel incredibly proud of him and also incredibly sorry for him for possibly being the first Prime Minister in the world to have to use the words "toilet paper" in a speech addressed to the nation.

Yes, the trigger for his speech was the insane hoarding that happened that week. Supermarkets were wiped clean. People were sweeping all the instant noodles, all the rice, all the toilet paper into their trolleys. Clearly, the sense of panic was its peak. Like a friend said, it felt like we were going to war.

But immediately after this speech, a sense of calm swept the nation. The National Trades Union Congress supermarket even issued a video the next day, showing that they had 9 million packs of toilet paper in their warehouse, in case junta was shitting their pants over the virus. Suddenly, toilet paper and instant noodles and hoarding were the hot topic, sidelining the virus. There were memes and jokes and forwards and we all laughed and moved on.

Speaking of forwards, I received some lovely ones from India, about how homeopathy can cure the disease (scientists and researchers all the world racing to find a vaccine are just doing timepass, no? I sent this right back.) and how drinking ginger (or was it garlic? Whatever.) water can kill the virus and oh, drinking hot water too because "the virus is not heat-resistant and dies at 23-26 degrees" (and our body temperature is...?) Finally, someone sent the one forward that made logical sense.

The 2019-nCoV has mutated to affect the human brain.
The reported symptoms include immediate alarming drop of IQ to zero, lack of judgment, rush to stock of supplies like toilet paper and instant noodles. (This symptom is the same as rush for Hello Kitty many years ago.)
This symptom may appear immediately. There is no incubation period.
The new 2019-nCoV is spread by WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram from person to person contacts
There is no known cure. The infected will die from stupidity.

Someone even sent me a forward about a new song called "Humra lehenga mein coronavirus ghusal ba". Bas, yehi sunna baaki reh gaya tha.

Things are a lot better now. There is a WhatsApp service by the government you can subscribe to, which provides daily updates on how many people are diagnosed and discharged each day, and precautions we should be taking. Lately more people are discharged each day than those diagnosed. My heart breaks though for the Bangladeshi construction worker who is in a very critical condition. The whole country is rooting for him though, so let's hope a miracle happens and he recovers. There was even a 6-month-old baby who had been admitted, but now he's home.

Clusters have been identified (including two churches, a health shop, a meeting at the Grand Hyatt and a construction site) and contact tracing has been very efficient so far. But once in a while, isolated cases do surface. Because of the incubation period when there are no symptoms, anyone could have it and be roaming around, spreading it. We could have it. Our friends or colleagues could have it. We are trying to be responsible. Washing our hands 87639846 times a day. Not touching our faces. Not going to crowded places. Avoiding meet-ups. Of course, none of this will guarantee that we won't get it. We just do the best we can.

Posters have been put up in the office reminding people to wash their hands. Bottles of disinfectant have been handed out to each team to disinfect the usual suspects every day — the work area, laptops, phones, etc. All essential work travel has been cancelled. I was supposed to travel to promote a new school book series we are publishing and sure enough, the schools we were supposed to go to plainly refused to meet anyone from Singapore. I heaved a mental sigh of relief because I have no desire at the moment to go through two airports and one aeroplane.

I will just stay put and wait for this thing to blow over. I will trust the system. After all, Pulitzer prize-winning epidemics expert Laurie Garrett said, "If Singapore can’t do it, if Singapore can’t keep it under control, then we’re all screwed, because they’ve got the best system in the world."

And if things still look bleak, I will sit in the bus wearing my inefficient homemade mask, plug in my earphones and listen to "O teri navi saheli de naallo mere sandal sohneya" (My sandals are better than your new girlfriend).


Arun said...

May you all keep in good health!

Argentyne said...

My husband found hand sanitizers at a small Indian shop at the Tampines MRT station. My local Indian shop even had cheap thermometers long after they sold out. Hoping we see the end of this virus soon!

Bubblegum said...

Well. Well. Well. Apparently I am not sure why India is still not into this mess! It is scary because in Mumbai every other person is down with Viral with similar symptoms - more or less! Ah btw that UNANI shit is because they have used the word 'Symptomatic Management' which literally means- get relief from your pain! It is NOT A TREATMENT! OR even a Precaution!

Arun said...

Happy Birthday to Xena!
(Lots of emojis)